Gardening In The Panhandle

Drama in the Garden with Amazon Dianthus Series

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.


Author: Beth Bolles –

Horticulture Agent, Escambia County

Beth Bolles

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Tick Tips

American Dog Tick. Photo: L. Buss, UF/IFAS

You’ve probably heard some tips to prevent picking up ticks in the past, but did you ever wonder why some work and others don’t? Understanding the life cycle and behavior of common ticks can help you succeed with your prevention measures.

Life Cycle of American Dog Tick. Credit: Centers for Disease Control

A general life cycle for ticks includes four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The egg hatches into larva which require a blood meal to molt into a nymph which again requires a blood meal before molting to an adult.
The adult female also requires blood feeding in order to produce eggs, which she lays in high numbers – some species lay up to 6,500 eggs!
Because blood is required for development, ticks have to be resourceful in finding hosts. Knowing this can help you understand why some tips work better than others.
Tick Tips
  • Wear clothing that covers skin and avoid sitting on the ground or logs in brushy areas. Adult ticks exhibit a behavior called “questing” where they climb to the top of grasses and vegetation with their forelegs extended and wait for a host to come by.  The American Dog Tick‘s primary host are dogs, but they will also target cattle, horses, and humans.
  • Apply repellents to exposed skin and clothing (different products are labeled for where they are applied, follow all directions). These chemicals repel ticks and can reduce likelihood of tick attachment, but ticks have been known to crawl over treated areas to access untreated body parts.
  • Keep grass and vegetation maintained and clean up debris that may harbor small mammals and rodents. Early in the tick life cycle it targets smaller animals for blood and they can
    hide or shelter in debris piles and vegetation.
  • Always shower and check yourself for ticks after being in areas where ticks may live, especially when temperatures are warm. Nymphs can be less than 1 mm long, so check carefully!
For instructions on how to properly remove a tick that has embedded, visit UF Health Tick Removal.

Female Lone Star tick that has not fed. Photo: L. Buss, UF/IFAS

Lone Star Tick female engorged on blood. Photo: L. Buss, UF/IFAS


Author: Julie McConnell –

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

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Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

Love Blueberries? Thank the Blueberry Bee!

The Southeastern blueberry bee uses buzz pollination on a blueberry plant. Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF IFAS.

This time of year, blueberry bushes are flowering and small fruit are coming onto the wild and cultivated bushes in north Florida. Many of us, myself included, look forward to the late-spring harvest of blueberries, taking our children out to u-pick operations and digging out family recipes for blueberry-filled desserts.

What many do not know, however, is that there’s a specialized bee that literally lives for this season. During the last few weeks, this little insect has been furiously pollinating blueberry bushes during its short, single-purpose lifetime.

The Southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda labriosa is active only in mid-March to April when blueberry plants are in flower. They are smaller than bumblebees, and the yellow patches on their heads can differentiate males. Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky, so it is not blown by the wind, and the flower anatomy is such that pollen from the male anther will not just fall onto the female stigma. Blueberry bees must instead attach themselves to the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out. Moving to the next flower, the bee’s vibrations will drop pollen from the first flower onto the next one. This phenomenon is called “sonicating” or ‘buzz pollination” and is the most effective method of creating a prolific blueberry crop.

Blueberry bees do not form hives, but create solitary nests in open, sunny, high ground. Females will dig a tunnel with a brood chamber large enough for one larva, filling it with nectar and pollen. After laying an egg, the female seals the chamber and the next generation is ready. The species produces only one generation of adults per year.

By the time we are picking fresh blueberries next month, you probably won’t see any blueberry bees around. However, we should all consider these insects’ short-lived but vitally important role in Florida’s $ 82 million/year blueberry industry!

For more information, check out the beautifully illustrated USDA Forest Service publication, “Bee Basics—An Introduction to our Native Bees,” or North Carolina State University’s entomology website.


Author: Carrie Stevenson –

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

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A Shrub that Likes it Shady

Almost every landscape has a problem area where the sun just doesn’t shine and many plants won’t make it, maybe it’s the north side of your house, under a small tree, or tucked away in an oddly-shaped alcove.  We all know the same old boring green choices that work well here (Holly Fern, Cast Iron Plant, etc.) but maybe you want something a little bit different, something that will provide a pop of color and interesting texture!  Look no further than a recent introduction, a whole-plant mutation discovered from the little-used Grape Holly (Mahonia spp.), aptly named ‘Soft Caress’.

‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia is a beautiful little evergreen shrub from the Southern Living Plant Collection (one of the best of the collection in my opinion) and really is a game changer for full-shade areas.  Some of you may remember the traditional Mahonia, also known as Grape Holly, from your grandmother’s lawn.  Those plants were coarse, spiny, produced messy purplish berries and often appeared generally unkempt.  ‘Soft Caress’ is a major departure from its parent.  Possessing finely-cut, deep green, bamboo-like foliage, this plant’s texture really contrasts well with many traditional shady species.  As a bonus, ‘Soft Caress’ sends up brilliant yellow-gold flower spikes in the dead of winter, certainly a welcome respite from the other barren plants in the landscape; although in this unusually warm year, the plants are just now blooming in the Panhandle.

Photo courtesy: Daniel J. Leonard

‘Soft Caress’ is advertised to grow three feet in height and width, a more manageable size than the larger traditional Mahonia species, but I’m not sure I’d take that as gospel, the three-year old plants (hardly mature specimens) in my parent’s landscape are already that size and show no signs of slowing down.  However, I’ve found you can easily manage their size with a once a year prune to slow down some of the more rapidly-growing canes.  Be sure to time the prune as soon as possible after flowering is finished as ‘Soft Caress’ blooms only once a year and produces its flowers on the previous season’s wood, just like Indica Azaleas and old-fashioned Hydrangeas.

The uses in the landscape for ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia are nearly endless.  It pairs well with almost anything in a shady mixed shrub border.  It works nicely as a foundation plant against a porch or under windows on the north or east side of a house where it will be protected from hot afternoon sun; I have employed a grouping of the plants in this way in my own lawn with success.  It even thrives in containers!  If you want to show off some serious horticultural design skills, mix ‘Soft Caress’ in a large container on the porch with some like-minded perennials for a low-maintenance, high-impact display that you don’t have to replant each season.  All this shrub requires is partial to full shade, moist well-drained soil, and an occasional haircut to keep it looking tidy!  If you’ve been struggling to find a plant that’s a little more unusual than the standard garden center fare and actually looks good in shady spots, you could do a lot worse than ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. 

As always, happy gardening and contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office for more information about this plant and other gardening questions!


Author: Daniel J. Leonard –

Horticulture Agent, Walton County

Daniel J. Leonard

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Impatiens for Sun and Shade

Source: UF/IFAS.


Impatiens are a very popular annual, bedding plant that provide a nice burst of color in the landscape. The traditional Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), or touch-me-not, is the one that most gardeners know as needing part shade, but there are also the New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) that are able to tolerate more sun. In addition to being able to withstand more sunlight, the New Guinea Impatiens also have larger flowers and leaves. Another highlight of the New Guinea impatiens is their increased resistance to downy mildew, a major concern for growers of touch-me-nots, especially in south Florida.


While native to the Old World, Impatiens are not known to invade Florida natural areas but may reproduce by seed. Touch-me-nots are known to spread easily be seed. An interesting fact about Impatiens is their bursting seed pods that can send seeds several feet from the parent plant. This characteristic is what led to the scientific name Impatiens – for impatient – and one of the common names – touch-me-not.


May is a good time to plant Impatiens in north Florida. They prefer slightly acidic soil and should be planted at a 12-18 inch spacing. Impatiens work well as a border planting or in mass plantings. While New Guinea Impatiens tolerate more sun, they still would prefer some afternoon shade. Those growing in full sun will need extra care to ensure they remain well watered. An all-purpose plant food can be applied at monthly intervals for best performance.


Some common varieties of touch-me-nots include ‘Accent’, ‘Blitz’, ‘Carousel’, ‘Dazzler’, ‘Impact’, ‘Impulse’, and ‘Super Elfins’. Common New Guinea Impatiens varieties include ‘Celebration Candy Pink’, ‘Celebration Light Lavender’, ‘Nebulus’, ‘Equinox’, ‘Sunglow’, and ‘Tango’. The newer ‘Sunpatiens’ variety is quite popular and comes in different forms – compact, spreading, and vigorous.

Source: UF/IFAS.

If you have any questions regarding Impatiens, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office or visit our EDIS website at


Author: Mark Tancig –

Mark Tancig

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Full Steam Ahead for Vegetable Garden Soil Prep

If you haven’t already, it’s time to prepare the garden space for the summer bounty of fresh vegetables. The following information will help you get started. Just remember, as the soil preparation goes, so goes the vegetable production.

Figure 1: Planting Vegetables in Prepared Soil.

Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS.

By far the most physical part of vegetable gardening is soil preparation. This is the foundation that your garden is built on, so let’s not cut corners at this stage. Plain and simple, poor soil prep will result in poor garden performance. Before you begin prep, it is a good idea to have a soil sample analyzed. With a soil analysis complete, a more customized fertilizer and application may be recommended for your needs. However, a complete fertilizer like 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 can be used as general purpose. Also, pH can be determined through this test. If the soil is too acidic for vegetables, then a liming requirement may be needed. pH is key information, especially regarding planting time. If one needs lime, it is recommended to wait at least a month before planting to allow the lime to adjust soil pH. Generally, a small amount of lime can be added to a garden space regardless, as lime also contains the vital micronutrients calcium and magnesium. Contact your local extension office for more information on soil testing.

To begin the garden prep, one will first need to remove the weeds from the space. The next step is to turn the soil. This will help aerate the soil and accelerate soil decomposition which leads to higher organic matter. Turing the soil will also eliminate any soil compaction issues that would stifle seed germination. With sandy soils throughout the Panhandle, one will most likely need to amend by spreading a rich organic compost in the space. An application of fertilizer can be mixed in at this stage as well. Always follow the manufacturer’s label regarding application directions. Once complete, the soil should then be turned by digging down six to eight inches. A large garden will require a motorized tiller, but hand-held implements should be fine for smaller spaces.

After the soil is turned, be sure to break up any clods and rake so that the area is level. The soil should be of a fine texture by this point. Again, this makes seed germination much easier and will assist in further root development of transplants.

To have a vegetable garden that all will envy, it begins with soil prep. Remember, not only does a vegetable garden provide nutrition, but it also provides for exercise, a feeling of accomplishment and even could save you a few bucks. Please contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” by Sydney Park Brown, Danielle Treadwell, J. M. Stephens and Susan Webb:

Information on garden plot preparation was also provided by Emeritus Vegetable Specialist Jim Stephens, of The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science.

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.



Author: Ray Bodrey –

Gulf County Extension Director, Agent II Agriculture & Natural Resource, Horticulture, Sea Grant

Ray Bodrey

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Monitoring for Common Lawn Insects

Spittlebug damage on centipedegrass. Photo credit: Larry Williams UF/IFAS

Mole crickets, chinch bugs and spittlebugs are common lawn insect pests to begin watching for this time of year.

Mole crickets can be active in lawns spring through fall, but the best window of opportunity to control them is in June and July.

Soap flushing is a technique to survey for mole crickets. Mix two ounces of liquid dishwashing soap in two gallons of water and apply with a sprinkling can to four square feet of turf in several areas where mole crickets are suspected. If an average of two to four mole crickets appear on the surface within several minutes, then a treatment is probably needed.

Chinch bugs only damage St. Augustinegrass. So if your lawngrass is something other than St. Augustine, don’t worry about this insect.

Damage from chinch bugs tends to begin in April. However, they are more likely to be active during warmer summer months through early fall in the more sunny areas of the yard, particularly if it’s dry.

Inspect a St. Augustinegrass lawn weekly during spring, summer and fall. Look for areas that quickly turn yellow and then straw brown. Part the grass at the margin of the yellowed areas and closely examine the soil surface and base of the turf for tiny insects. Immature chinch bugs are pink to red and are about the size of a pinhead. The adults are only 1/8 inch long and black with white wings.

Spittlebugs attack all turfgrass species but centipedegrass is their favorite. The first generation of adult spittlebugs is abundant in June and the peak population usually occurs in August to early September.

An early sign of spittlebug activity are masses of white, frothy spittle found in the turf. Each piece of spittle contains one immature spittle bug. Infested turf turns yellow and eventually brown. Damage resembles chinch bug injury but usually first appears in shady areas. Closer inspection reveals discolored individual grass blades with cream colored and pinkish-purple streaks running the length of individual blades. As the population builds, the ¼ inch long adults are abundant. As you walk through or mow an infested area, numerous adult spittlebugs fly short distances when disturbed. Adults are black with two orange transverse stripes across their wings.

Correct lawn management can minimize many pest problems. If a pesticide becomes necessary to control a lawn pest, be sure to follow the product’s label instructions and precautions.


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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Increase Crop Diversity to Improve Your Garden

Most of you plant a spring vegetable garden with a number of different vegetable types. However, you may not realize that you are improving the health of your soil and your crops by planting a diverse garden.  Intercropping is a gardening practice of growing different crops in the same field.  When planting a mixture of crops in the same field year after year, it is important to rotate the location of each type of vegetable.  This is a practice known as crop rotation.  Intercropping and crop rotation will help reduce insect pest populations, increase beneficial insect populations, and reduce weed populations.

Crop Diversity

Growing plants in your garden that pest insects don’t like to eat makes the pests work harder to find what they do like to eat.  Studies have found reduced whitefly numbers on squash plantings mixed with a crop of buckwheat when compared to squash planted alone.  Another crop mixture that may be unintentional, but may work in your favor is a row of crapemyrtles along the edge of your garden.  Crapemyrtles will attract the crapemyrtle aphid which will attract predatory insects.  When the predatory insects run out of crapemyrtle aphids to eat, they will move to your garden and begin to hunt pest insects on your vegetable crop.

Squash with living mulch of buckwheat. Photo Credit: Oscar Liburd, UF/IFAS Extension

Trap Cropping

A trap crop is a plant that attracts a pest insect away from your food crops.  Trap crops work best when planted at the edge of your garden, along a fence row, or in movable containers.  A bare space, let’s say 5 feet or so, should be kept between your trap crop and your garden.  This will help keep the pests from moving on to your vegetables.  When you find a good population of pests on your trap crop then it is time to spray them with insecticide or cut the crop down and remove the debris to a location far from your garden.  If your trap crops are planted in containers, then it makes them that much easier to remove from near the garden area.

Cover Crops and Green Manure

Soil organic matter can be increased by the use of green manure and cover crops.  Cover crops are generally planted during the off-season, but they can be planted in between vegetable rows and tilled in at a designated time as a green manure.  Both cover crops and green manure improve the production of your garden by:

  • Suppressing weeds by competing for water, light, and nutrients;
  • Holding the soil in place and preventing erosion;
  • Scavenging for nutrients that can be utilized in future crops;
  • Reducing nematode populations;
  • Providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

A mixed plot of cover crops and trap crops. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

A number of different crops can serve as cover crops or green manure crops.  Most are legumes (bean family) or grasses.  A few that you might like to give a try are:

  • Cowpeas
  • Sunn hemp
  • Sorghum-sudangrass
  • Winter rye

More detailed information on cover crops and green manure can be found at this link:


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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Dig Safely: Call 811

This month, recognized by the Senate and Florida’s governor, reminds diggers why calling 811 before all outdoor digging projects is important to your safety. Before installing a mailbox, fence, deck, garden or tree make sure to call Sunshine 811 to have underground lines marked. 811 is the free national number designated by the Federal Communications Commission.  It notifies utility companies, who in turn send their professional locators to identify and mark the appropriate location of underground line with paint and flags in colors that identify the utility type.  The following colors represent the seven various utilities: red – electric, orange – communications (telephone, cable tv), blue – potable water, green – sewer, yellow – gas, purple – reclaimed water, and white – site of intended excavation.  To learn more about color designation and their corresponding  utility go to:   Locating marks are good for 30 calendar days.  Any work beyond that requires another call to 811.  If the marks are destroyed before your project is done, stop digging and call 811.


Hitting an underground utility line while digging can cause injuries.   Utility service outages can also impact an entire neighborhood and damage the environment. The depth of utility lines varies, and there may be multiple utility lines in one common area.  Even if you think you know where an underground line is, time tends to change things.  Erosion or tree roots can shift those utility lines.  Failure to call before digging results in one unintentional utility hit every eight minutes nationwide.  You could also be financially affected with costly fines and high repair costs.


The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) provides industry stakeholders with a way to anonymously submit data into a comprehensive database for analysis of the factors that lead to events. An event is defined by the CGA DIRT User’s Guide as “the occurrence of downtime, damages, and near misses.” The number of events submitted to DIRT for 2011 totaled 207,779. However, according to CGA DIRT “when a call is made to the one call center (811) prior to excavation, 99% of the time there will be no damage”.


Calling 811 in Florida is the law. At least two full business days before digging, do-it yourselfers and professional excavators must contact 811 by phone to start the process of getting underground utility lines marked.  This is a free service.  Be sure that all utilities have been marked before grabbing the shovel.  If you don’t see locate marks, don’t assume there are no underground utility lines.  Verify with the Sunshine 811 Positive Response system.  Follow up on your one call ticket by contacting 811 again on the third day.  Sunshine State One Call is a not for profit corporation which began with the 1993 adoption of the “Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act,” Chapter 556, Florida Statutes.  Online you can visit:, or call (800) 852-8057.  If you provide a valid e-mail when requesting your locate ticket, positive response updates will automatically be sent to you when all utilities have responded.  For more information on Florida’s law, visit


Author: Sheila Dunning –

Sheila Dunning

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Put Some Thought into Tree Placement

It’s really tempting to buy a tree and plant it in the middle of your lawn or directly in front of your picture window, but instead take some time to choose the best spot first. Several considerations such as maintenance and mature size should be taken into account before the site is selected.

Mowing close to the trunk of this Pindo palm has caused repeated injury to the trunk. Photo: JMcConnell, UF/IFAS

Placing a tree in a lawn area without creating a bed can lead to maintenance issues for both the tree and the turfgrass. It is easy to simply cut out a small patch of turf the size of the rootball and install a tree, however, as the grass grows up towards the trunk over time maintaining that grass will become difficult. It is common to see mechanical injuries to tree trunks because weed eaters or mowers have chipped away at the bark when trying to cut the grass. Other potential problems are irrigation zones calibrated for turf delivering the wrong amount of water to trees and herbicides used on grass that may cause injury to trees.

Over time, as the tree canopy grows, it will create shade and any grass trying to grow in that area will thin and be more susceptible to disease and insect pressure. By creating a large ornamental bed for your tree, you will prevent some pitfalls associated with placing the tree in the lawn.

Another common mistake is planting a tree too close to a house or other structure. It can be difficult to imagine how large a tree will grow at maturity because it is not a quick process. Trees placed close to houses may grow into eaves and shed leaves onto roofs and into gutters. This adds to maintenance and can provide mosquito breeding grounds. Also, some tree roots may interfere with walkways or septic systems and should be sited far enough away to avoid these issues.

These Japanese Maples are planted in a bed separate from the lawn making care for both plant types easier. Photo: JMcConnell, UF/IFAS

Be sure to research any tree you plan to install to find out ideal growing conditions and mature size. If you plan ahead and use good maintenance practices, a tree can become an valuable part of your home landscape to be enjoyed for years to come.


Author: Julie McConnell –

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

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