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Plant Cupheas for Summer Flowers, Hummingbirds, and More


Cuphea ignea
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox

Cupheas are perennials that produce bright orange, red, yellow or purple flowers all summer and fall.  Some species are called cigar plants due to their tubular, cigar shaped flowers tipped in red or yellow (like a lit cigar). Others are sometimes called firecracker plants because their cylindrical flowers are bright red or orange (looking like a firecracker). By any name, their nectar-filled, tubular flowers are widely known for attracting large numbers of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. In addition, young stems of some species are reddish, further adding color and contrast to the usually narrow, lance-shaped green foliage.


As a group, cupheas grow best in full to part sun (the brighter, the better) and well-drained, moderately fertile soil. Cupheas are drought tolerant once established, but grow faster and larger with regular moisture and occasional fertilization. Their origins in warm climates allow them to thrive in heat, but likewise make some species sensitive to cold winters. Those that are frost tender along the Gulf Coast are best placed in a sheltered location in the garden. Cupheas are pest and disease resistant and are not invasive in Florida. They are not truly deer resistant, yet reports suggest cupheas are not favored by deer.

Cupheas are great summer performers in bright, hot and dry locations. Flowering begins in summer and continues through fall until short days and cool weather reduce flowering or frosts cause dieback. Along the Gulf Coast, cool winter weather slows them down, so re-growth doesn’t occur until mid to late spring, and flowering usually doesn’t begin until days and nights are warm. Growth and appearance of many cupheas are improved if plants are pruned or cut to the ground in late winter.

Over 200 species of Cuphea are native to Mexico and the warm-temperate and tropical Americas. Of these and their hybrids, the cupheas listed below are great summer-flowering perennials for the northern Gulf Coast.


Cuphea micropetala
Photo courtesty: Gary Knox


Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea)

This fine-textured plant produces red to orange tubular flowers about an inch long. This cigar plant is hardy to about 20°F. It grows about 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide along the Gulf Coast, though it would be a larger, evergreen shrub in warmer climates. This cuphea tends to have lanky growth, so occasional summer pruning will stimulate branching which results in more dense growth.


Cigar Plant or Candy Corn Plant (Cuphea micropetala)

Flowers are 1.5 inches long, emerge pale yellow and gradually turn orange from the base upwards, offering a colorful, two-tone effect. Foliage is hardy to 25-30°F and this cigar plant is root hardy to at least 15°F. Stems should be cut back to ground level in late winter to keep the plant tidy. Clumps spread slowly outward by rhizomes, and the plant will reach 3 feet tall and wide along the Gulf Coast.


Cuphea schumannii
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox


Orange Cigar Plant or Schumann’s Cuphea (Cuphea schumannii)

This sprawling, floriferous cigar plant prefers moist, well-drained soil to thrive. Barrel-shaped, 1- to 1½-inch blooms are orange and yellow and sometimes have small purple petals at the tips. Flowers cover the branch terminals in the heat of summer and into fall. This plant is hardy in Zones 8 to 9 (at least down to the mid 20s°F). Unlike many other cupheas, leaves of orange cigar plant are oval- to heart-shaped. Stems grow 2 to 3 feet tall and readily flop or fall over. Plan to give orange cigar plant lots of room to sprawl through the garden!


Cuphea ‘David Verity’
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox


‘David Verity’ Large Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea × micropetala ‘David Verity’)

This floriferous hybrid produces flowers that are dark orange with a short yellow-orange flared tip and purple filamentts. Well-adapted to the Gulf Coast, this plant is foliage hardy down to 25-30°F and root hardy to at least 15°F. In Zone 9 this plant will grow as an evergreen shrub up to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, but it will be smaller in areas where frost or freezes occur. This selection is believed to be a hybrid between Cuphea ignea and C. micropetala that was given in the mid 1970s to David Verity, then the manager of the UCLA Mildred Mathias Botanic Garden. It was subsequently named for him when later brought into commercial production.


‘Vermillionaire®’ Large Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire®’)

This new hybrid appears to be a superior cuphea because it grows as a naturally compact plant that produces more flowers than other selections. ‘Vermillionaire®’ grows about 24 inches or more tall and wide with a compact, mounding habit. Orange tubular flowers are produced continuously until late fall. This cuphea is too new to know the full extent of its hardiness, but it is expected to be a perennial in Zones 8 and higher.


Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

Unlike the previous cupheas, this plant has small purple flowers, and some selections sport white flowers. Another difference is Mexican heather’s finely textured, bright green leaves. Gulf Coast Zone 8 plants are usually killed to the ground in winter, often recovering by summer but resulting in a compact plant growing less than 24 inches tall and wide. In Zones 9 and higher, Mexican heather is a larger-growing semi-evergreen tropical shrub. Reported pests are leaf-chewing beetles (Altica and Colaspis spp.) and the twig-dwelling lesser snow scale (Pinnaspis strachani). Mexican heather works well for edging beds or sidewalks, helping to define and soften pathways. Cultivars include Allyson, Lavender Lace, Purple Nurple™ and the white-flowered Monga (Itsy Bitsy° White) and ‘White Whispers’.

Bat-Faced Cuphea
Photo courtesy: Gary Knox

Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)

Each 1-inch flower consists of a purple tube lipped with two red, upright lobes. By viewing the flower with its tip facing you, it takes only a little imagination to see the two red lobes resemble large “ears” above the purple “face” of a bat, hence the name. Along the Gulf Coast, bat face cuphea grows mound-shaped 8 to 24 inches tall and wide, depending upon the selection. It is very heat and drought tolerant but requires better drainage than the other cupheas. Bat face cuphea is evergreen down to the upper 20s°F and root hardy into the lower 20s°F. Improved forms of bat face cuphea include the cultivars, Flamenco Samba, Georgia Scarlet, Mellow Yellow, Miss Priss, Tiny Mice®, Sriracha™ Pink, Sriracha™ Violet, Torpedo, Vienco° Lavender and Vienco° Red.


Author: Gary Knox – gwknox@ufl.edu

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

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/17/plant-cupheas-for-summer-flowers-hummingbirds-and-more/

Look More Deeply for Causes of Leaf Wilt

Look More Deeply for Causes of Leaf Wilt

Leaf wilt may indicate more than just dry soil. Photo by Beth Bolles

Leaf wilt may indicate more than just dry soil. Photo by Beth Bolles

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

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

Too much water can cause roots to decay, preventing the uptake of water. Photo by Beth Bolles

Too much water can cause roots to decay, preventing the uptake of water. Photo by Beth Bolles

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


Author: Beth Bolles – bbolles@ufl.edu

Horticulture Agent, Escambia County

Beth Bolles

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/22/look-more-deeply-for-causes-of-leaf-wilt/

UF Survey Shows Most Floridians Want to Know More about Genetically Modified Foods

Fewer than half of Florida consumers survey by the UF PIE Centersay they would purchase genetically modied food or clothing, even if it cost less or was their favorite food.

Fewer than half of 500 Florida consumers surveyed say they would purchase genetically modied food or clothing, even if it cost less or was their favorite food.  Source: UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education.

While almost half of Floridians acknowledge buying genetically modified foods, a recent survey by the Center for Public Issues Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida reveals that most people want to know much more about those foods. “The study shows that Floridians believe they don’t know much about genetically modified foods and their benefits,” said Joy Rumble, assistant professor in agricultural education and communication at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Many people are favorable to supporting research, and they think it’s essential that government support it. Floridians see a place for GM foods, but they do have hesitations.”

The PIE Center surveyed 500 Floridians on their perceptions of genetically modified foods. Respondents were largely unsure about the potential benefits of genetically modified food, with more than 40 percent neither agreeing nor disagreeing that food technology such as GMOs allows people to live longer or better lives.

Source: Center for Public Issues Education

A recent survey of 500 Florida consumers shows that only 33% considered genetically modified foods as safe.  Source: Center for Public Issues Education

However, there is a great potential to educate Floridians about the topic, as 64 percent of respondents indicated that they would like to learn more about genetically modified foods. Only 22 percent of Floridians agreed or strongly agreed that they received information about genetically modified food from a scientist, but 59 percent of respondents would like to learn more from universities.  “This is a great opportunity not only for UF but also for other educational institutions across the country to take the lead in educating the general public about genetically modified foods,” Rumble said.

In addition, many Floridians were favorable toward supporting research, with 42 percent agreeing that studies about genetically modified food are essential for improving the quality of life. Almost half agreed that the federal government should support research on genetically modified food. “The research results show opportunities to continue to educate and communicate with consumers about the safety of genetically modified food,” Rumble said. “Still, there is some negative perception about these foods out there.” For example, fewer than half of Florida’s residents say they would purchase genetically modified food or clothing, even if it cost less or was their favorite food. But, more than 40 percent of Floridians agreed or strongly agreed they have purchased genetically modified food in the past, while only 27 percent of Floridians believe they currently purchase genetically modified food.


Author: admin – webmaster@ifas.ufl.edu


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/02/uf-survey-shows-most-floridians-want-to-know-more-about-genetically-modified-foods/

More Grazing Dishes for the Summer Salad Bar

More Grazing Dishes for the Summer Salad Bar

 Figure 1. Jed Dillard, Jerfforson county Extension kneels in a pasture of Tifleaf 3 millet and cowpeas that awere no-till drilled into ryegrass and red clover.

Figure 1. Jed Dillard, Jerfforson county Extension kneels in a pasture of Tifleaf 3 millet and cowpeas that were no-till drilled into ryegrass and red clover.

We’ve heard “North Florida can grow forage 365 days a year!” for ages, and that’s true. However, those of us who’ve carried livestock through more than one winter with our own money, or worse, a bank’s money, know that it’s just not that simple. The long-time goal of getting grazing from fall seeded winter annuals by Thanksgiving seems as elusive as Bigfoot in many years. Records from state climatologist, Dr. Dave Zierden, show May has become increasingly dry over the years

Typical forage programs are based on Bermuda or Bahia grasses and some type of winter supplement such as hay, commodity feeds, protein feeds, or winter annuals. Of course costs vary, and each operation has a unique set of resources, requirements and opportunities. Use your head and your pencil to decide what works best for your situation.

One of the more common strategies is to graze winter annuals as protein and energy supplements, either on a prepared seedbed or overseeded on permanent pastures. Prepared seed beds work best for cereal grains (Oats, rye, triticale, wheat), and clovers and ryegrass are preferred for overseeding. However, clover and ryegrass can be also combined effectively with cereal grains to extend the grazing season on prepared land.

Generally, grazing crops on prepared land is converted to cash crops in the spring. Corn ground goes first, followed by peanuts and cotton. Soybeans and sorghum can go in early or late.  If row crops aren’t in the immediate future for your land, what are your options as the days warm and dry weather hits you in May? I’ve seen a variety of options recently. Take a look and see if these might work for you, especially as you plan for next year

Clover Mixtures

Take advantage of the complementary growth periods of clover and other cool season legume varieties. The peak production begins with common vetch followed generally by crimson clover, ball clover, hairy vetch, arrow leaf clover, red clover and white clover. All these can be broadcast into dormant or short permanent pasture. Figure 2. shows a mixture of legumes that were broadcast into Bahiagrass that already had ryegrass and crimson clover reseeding in it. The mixture includes, common vetch, hairy vetch, arrow leaf clover and Osceola white clover; the photo was taken in mid-May. The white and arrow leaf clover and white clover are still going today, and red clover would have extended the blend even further.

Figure 2. A broadcast mix of legumes in Mid-May Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Figure 2. A broadcast mix of legumes in Mid-May
Photo Credit: Jed Dillard


The bane of row crop farmers and a primary source of income for the lawn pesticide industry, crabgrass fills one of our grazing gaps as winter annuals play out on prepared seedbeds. It can last into August with decent rainfall and fertility. It’s a high quality forage and frequently is already a part of the seed bank in many North Florida fields. Improved varieties of crabgrass are available. Hay growers won’t want it as it doesn’t dry at the same rate as Bermuda, but grazers should capitalize on the opportunity.  Clovers and crabgrass are the simplest options to implement for the May – July window, but overseeding with a no-till drill opens up several more options on winter annuals that were planted on prepared land.

Figure 3. Tifleaf 3 Millet emerging in Oats and Clover in Late April Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Figure 3. Tifleaf 3 Millet emerging in Oats and Clover in Late April
Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

No Till Annuals

Pearl millet is the most common summer annual in our area, and the photos show two approaches. Figure 3. shows millet coming up in oats and clover in late April. This approach provides continuous availability of high quality forage, but requires the ability to use grazing to manage the competition between the two plantings. Close grazing of the growing crop allows the emergence of the millet. After emergence and during the transition to millet grazing, management must find the balance between allowing the millet enough light and grazing the millet too hard, too soon.  Figure 4. was taken in early June shows a field of Southern Bell red clover with Tifleaf 3 millet and iron clay peas no tilled into it. With proper grazing management, this mix can last into late summer.  These options run the gamut from requiring hardly any equipment to the use of high dollar no till drills, and you need to make your own financial decisions based on your own financial situation.

Figure 4. Allen Skinner, Suwanee Co.

Figure 4. Allen Skinner, Suwannee County in millet, cow peas and red clover in early June. Photo Credit: Joel Love

As you examine your situation think of these questions:

  • Does a no till drill cost more than a hay baler, cutter, rake and fluffer?
  • How many times would you need to go over your land per year with a no till drill versus a hay baler, cutter, etc.?
  • Would I rather my livestock harvest my forage, or would I rather cut, rake and bale it, haul it to the barn and then haul it back to my livestock?
  • Would I rather grow more of my nitrogen with legumes or buy it?

Growing forage 365 days a year? Check. Growing good forage economically 365 days a year? More thinking, maybe more work, maybe more money. These aren’t easy production decisions, and they’re even more complicated economic decisions. For further information on variety selection, seeding options, and financial considerations contact your local Extension Agent and/or see the following related UF/IFAS Publications:



Author: Jed Dillard – dillardjed@ufl.edu

Jefferson County Livestock and Natural Resources Agent with a commercial cow/calf background. My degree is in animal breeding, but I do more work wth forage systems. Long time clover/legume booster for both livestock and wildlife

Jed Dillard

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/11/more-grazing-dishes-for-the-summer-salad-bar/

Zoysiagrass Becoming More Popular in the Panhandle

Zoysiagrass Becoming More Popular in the Panhandle

If you’ve been researching lawn grass options recently, you’ve probably come across a not so traditional variety known as zoysiagrass. There’s no mystery why zoysiagrass has become a hit with lawn enthusiasts in the Panhandle. This variety is a great choice for coastal, warm weather climates. However, there are always management practices that need to be carefully considered, before deciding on a lawn grass variety.

Zoysiagrass was introduced to the U.S. from Asia around the early 1900’s. The grass has mostly been used for turf applications, especially on golf courses and other athletic fields. However, in recent years, breeding advances have made this variety a viable option for homeowners. Some of these improvements involve insect resistance and fast establishment periods.

Except for one species, zoysiagrasses must be planted by sod, plugs, or sprigs. Zoysia japonica is the only species commercially available in seed form. Zoysiagrass is a not a cold hardy plant. It’s the first grass variety to turn brown under cold temperatures and is slow to turn green once warmer temperatures arrive. Probably the most attractive quality of zoysiagrass is the ability to grow in virtually any soil, ranging from sandy to clay, acidic or alkaline. Moderately shaded locations are also acceptable for zoysia. Zoysiagrass is extremely drought tolerant. The plant’s root system has a great adaptation to combat drought conditions. Since the root system is very deep, it is able to maximize soil moisture potential.

Figure 1. Large (brown) patch disease caused by Rhizoctonia solani. Credit. J. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS.

Figure 1. Large (brown) patch disease caused by Rhizoctonia solani.
Credit. J. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS.

Zoysiagrass is not a silver bullet for lawn problems. It encounters weed and insect problems as well. The most formidable disease of zoysiagrass is large brown patch. This disease is caused by the fungal pathogen, Rhizoctonia solani. The disease begins in small patches that turn from yellow to brown. It’s common to see these patches with healthier grass in the center. The pathogen is most active when soil temps fall between 65-75°F. This generally correlates with the fall season and then throughout the following spring in the Panhandle. Zoysiagrass is no more susceptible to the disease as any other grass, but the recovery time is lengthy. With this being said, a proactive fungicide regimen is recommended.

Zoysiagrass also responds better to smaller quantities of fertilizer applied more frequently rather than supplying larger quantities infrequently. UF/IFAS Extension recommendations state that zoysiagrass should receive three applications per year in the Panhandle region.

If you are looking to seed or sod your landscape, zoysiagrass may be an option to consider. Best management practices influence the overall health and quality of your lawn and reduces its susceptibility to disease. Take these practices into consideration when deciding on a lawn grass.

Please visit Florida Friendly Landscaping, http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/, for more information on maintaining your landscape.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication “Zoysiagrass for Florida Lawns” by J. Bryan Unruh, L. E. Trenholm, and J. L. Cisar: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/LH/LH01100.pdf

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.


Author: Ray Bodrey – rbodrey@ufl.edu

Gulf County Extension Director, Agent II Agriculture, Natural Resource & Community Development

Ray Bodrey

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/06/02/zoysiagrass-becoming-more-popular-in-the-panhandle/

Cotton Marketing News: Ending the Year with a more Positive Outlook

Shurely header 12-22-15Don Shurley, University of Georgia Cotton Economist

Prices. 2015 has certainly been a challenging year. But the marketing year is less than half over and there may yet be better opportunities down the road. Most growers were looking for and holding out for 70 cents on Dec15 futures, and we just never got there—close but never got the 7 in front.

Given the way the Marketing Loan and LDP works, waiting it out was a good strategy and most growers understand how and why this works. Additionally, it was expected that the cash/spot market would pay premiums for high quality, that contracting often does not. Given the likelihood of an LDP and quality premiums, downside risk was limited, and the opportunity cost of doing nothing was about 70 cents or even better anyway.

Looking ahead to the 2016 crop, a similar mindset will likely be needed. There are no guarantees that one marketing approach will work better than others—it’s all about a balance between price and risk management. Know the pros and cons, and evaluate your alternatives carefully. Prior to harvest, this typically includes Put Options, various types of contracting, or doing nothing. Growers may also wish to consider participating in a marketing association. With each alternative, it’s critical to know when you do and when you don’t have “beneficial interest” regarding receiving any LDP and also whether or not you will be rewarded for high quality fiber.Shurely 12-21-15Mar16 futures are currently around 63½ cents. Dec16 is between 64 and 65 cents. I have a sense that many growers have already taken the LDP and have either sold the crop, or nevertheless holding it in storage. Otherwise, the crop has gone to the Loan where the grower will redeem and receive any MLG or take a merchant equity.

At present, the outlook for 2016 is much the same as for the 2015 crop. With Dec16 again in the 60’s, this may not convince farmers to plant much cotton. But 2016 corn and soybean prices are not as attractive relative to cotton, as this year. Also, let’s not forget that at least ½ million acres intended for cotton in Texas was abandoned or switched to another crop, due to rain and delayed planting. Also, the large shift to peanuts in GA may not be repeated to that magnitude, due to crop rotation constraints.

There are no guarantees that a strong basis and quality premiums will hold for the 2016. Assuming they do and again, knowing the benefits of LDP’s—depending on weather, US cotton acreage and production could increase in 2016. This will place emphasis on demand growth for improved price direction.

Policy Adjustments. Several changes and/or possible changes, if approved, could act to improve the farm bill safety net for cotton in 2016. The recently passed Omnibus Appropriations bill requires USDA to begin allowing (reinstate) the use of commodity marketing certificates for Loan redemptions beginning with the 2015 crop marketing year. It is expected that this will be helpful to large and/or diversified producers facing payment limitations.

Efforts are also underway seeking that cottonseed be included as an “other oilseed” under the PLC and ARC provisions of the new farm bill. The mechanics how this would work and its impact for the grower are uncertain, but could be a big improvement in cotton’s safety net. The effectiveness and impact of this, if approved, will depend on (1) how base is determined, (2) what impact, if any, this will have on generic base, (3) what the PLC reference price will be, and (4) how any PLC or ARC payment will impact the already tight payment limitation for some growers.

STAX. Several modifications in STAX are forthcoming. In 2015, STAX had to be purchased for all cotton acres on a farm although a different coverage level (band) could be chosen for irrigated and non-irrigated production. For 2016, producers will be able to choose 0% coverage on either irrigated or non-irrigated (the policy will technically be a 70-70% policy). Farms with both irrigated and non-irrigated production will be able to essentially choose not to cover one or the other. Also new for 2016, there will be coverage for cottonseed. This will be a rider to the STAX policy. It is a yield only policy and will apply to the irrigated and non-irrigated acreage reported and the coverage bands chosen.Cotton News Sponsor

Don Shurley, University of Georgia
229-386-3512 / donshur@uga.edu



Author: admin – webmaster@ifas.ufl.edu


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/12/22/cotton-marketing-news-ending-the-year-with-a-more-positive-outlook/

Southeast Drying Out with More Hot & Dry Weather on the Way

High PressureDavid Zierden, State Climatologist
Article posted on Southeast Innovative Farming Team June 19, 2015

Current Conditions – According to the last U.S. Drought Monitor, drought is starting to creep back into the Southeast. The latest map released on June 18 designates a large portion of South Georgia and North Florida as D0, or “abnormally dry”.  Some Southeast Georgia Counties and Northeast Florida is classified as in “moderate drought”.6-16-15 SE Drough MonitorRainfall over the last 30 days has lagged behind over much of South Georgia and North Florida, with only spotty coverage from the normal afternoon thundershowers.  Areas centered around Tallahassee and Jefferson County, FL and Northeast Florida have 30-day deficits approaching 4 inches or more.

The reason is that the Southeast has been dominated by a deep-layer high pressure ridge that has lead to temperatures in the upper 90′s and suppressed thunderstorm formation. This same high pressure system was responsible for blocking any moisture from tropical storm Bill from affecting the region.  Thundershower activity in the past few days has been limited to near the Gulf Coast where the seabreeze initiated formation.  Areas further from the coast remained mostly dry.

Mid-Range Forecast – Unfortunately, this pattern of high pressure ridging will stick with us for the next 7-14 days.  The National Weather Service office in Tallahassee is forecasting high temperatures in the upper 90′s for the entire next week and rain chances only 20%-30% each day.  As we have seen for the last week or more, some locations may get lucky with a well-placed thundershower, while others nearby remain dry.  Coverage will generally decrease  further inland from the coast and they do not expect any widespread events.  Tallahassee NWS Office

Mid-range weather models from both NOAA and the European Center forecast the ridge to grow even stronger over the Southern United States next week and bring more scorching temperatures.  This is not good news for area growers, as the high temperatures stress crops and lead to much higher evapotranspiration rates that deplete soils of moisture.  Also, higher daytime temperatures usually go hand-in-hand with less rainfall and thunderstorm activity during the summer in the Southeast.  Below is NOAA’s 8-14 day outlook showing the hotter and drier forecast for the region.














Looking Further Ahead – 
 El Nino has continued to gain strength in the Pacific Ocean and now is close to being considered a “Strong” event.  The connection to the atmosphere, circulation and weather patterns is also will-established right now, as El Nino helped direct moisture from the tropical Pacific to Texas and Oklahoma, where they had widespread flooding and record rainfall in the month of May.  Looking closer to home, a strong El Nino is not good news for the Southeast.  A composite analysis from similar early starting and strong El Nino events shows that the Southeast often responds with a dry late summer (July – August).  NOAA’s latest 3-month seasonal outlook was released yesterday (June 18) and is consistent with the idea of less rainfall over this region.

Climate Precip3 Month Precip











Take Home Message – Hot and dry conditions as we approach the most critical point in the growing season is not something anyone wants to hear.  Unfortunately, it is looking more and more like a reality that has to be dealt with.  The forecast can change and weather prediction has very little skill in the two-four week horizon.  Tropical storms or disturbances are also a wildcard that cannot be predicted or anticipated at this time, but could impact the region as hurricane season heats up.  But for right now, hot and drier is a good possibility for the next two weeks or so and it could persist well into the second half of summer.



Author: admin – webmaster@ifas.ufl.edu


Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/06/19/southeast-drying-out-with-more-hot-dry-weather-on-the-way/

Alligators Become More Active in the Spring

Alligators Become More Active in the Spring

The American Alligator is an icon in the state of Florida. Viewed on the program “Swamp People” and as the mascot of the University of Florida, most visitors to our state view this animal more on television than in the wild; but they are certainly there. In need of mates and calories from the lack of eating over the winter, alligators and other reptiles become more active this time of year. Visitors and residents alike should be a little more cautious.

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O'Connnor

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O’Connor

Like most predators, alligators seek food that will provide them energy. Generally predators will target prey that will cost them very little energy to capture and kill. Obviously small alligators will feed on small prey but adult alligators feed on smaller prey than many think. Fish, turtles, snakes, small mammals and birds make up the bulk of their diet. If the opportunity presents itself, and they do not have to expend too much energy, alligators will certainly take larger mammals and birds.


For humans the bigger problem has been the loss of pets and livestock. Small dogs are certainly easier prey than a human, and with the loss of habitat encounters with humans and their pets have increased. Since 1948 FWC has estimated about 300 alligator attacks on humans directly, less than 10% of these were fatal. As more alligators are forced into suburban areas more encounters have occurred. In the last 10 years 16,000 nuisance alligator calls have been reported to the FWC. As with other wildlife, like coyotes, many of these animals are living in ditches and other watering holes where they seek fish and turtles. However if we visit such places, particularly with our pets, these animals may certainly make an attempt to grab them. If you feel an alligator is a nuisance and could be a potential problem you can call FWC at (866) FWC-GATOR; (866) 392-4286). Folks should be aware that FWC does not relocate nuisance alligators, they will be destroyed. Currently FWC issues about 7000 permits for alligator control across the state.


A couple of safety notes if you live near waterways with alligators.

  • Do not swim in these locations at night; alligators are more active hunters between dusk and dawn
  • Try to discard fish remains after cleaning in another location besides the water; if these locations have a few alligators they will certainly learn this habitat and hang around the boat ramp more.
  • DO NOT FEED alligators; help us let visiting tourists know this and that it is illegal in our state. Alligators fed by humans will eventually lose their natural fear of us and this could bring on problems.

These are awesome animals. We should better understand their natural history so that we can exist with them. For more information on alligators in your area contact your county extension office.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/04/10/alligators-become-more-active-in-the-spring/

Encore® Azaleas – Add One More This Spring

Encore® Azaleas – Add One More This Spring

Nothing signals spring in the south like the reds, pinks and whites of azaleas in full bloom. Nearly every yard has one. For two weeks out of the year there are flowers everywhere. But the glory fades fast. That was, until the late 90’s.

Twenty-eight Encore® azaleas have been released since 1998. Robert E “Buddy” Lee, an avid collector and azalea breeder from Independence, Louisiana initiated an azalea breeding program to incorporate fall blooming characteristics into a winter hardy, evergreen azalea. He started his work in the 1980s, working out of his home with the goal of bringing the beauty of spring azaleas to other seasons. As the project grew, he eventually teamed up with Flowerwood Nursery to continue the process that would bring Encore® azaleas to the public. And, this spring number 29, Autumn Fire, a true red dwarf will be released, nearly a year ahead of autumn_fire_thumbnailits original predicted introduction date.

Lee selected the seedling that was to be named Autumn Amethyst in 1986, but did not receive the plant patent until 1998. So far, there are two series of Encore® azaleas: the Autumn series and the Southern series. The Autumn series can be grown in Zone 7 or warmer. The Southern series was designed for even warmer climates; they can be grown in Zone 8 or warmer. The Southern varieties are especially good for the Florida panhandle and the Mississippi and Alabama gulf coasts.

Different parents were used for the various cultivars now available. The fall flowering trait primarily comes from Rhododendron oldhamii Fourth of July – a cultivar selected from seed collected in 1968 at 2,500 feet up Taiwan’s Mount Tai Tun. The female parent used to create Autumn Amethyst was a winter hardy hybrid named ‘Karens’ a cross between ‘Hinodegini’, the old Kurume variety, and R. yedoensis var. poukhanense, the Korean azalea.

At the 2015 Gulf States Horticultural Expo last week, I got to see Autumn Firein full bloom. It is a bright cherry red with 2.5” blooms, on a nice compact 2.5’ X 3’ dwarf plant.   I think it’s a keeper. Encore® azaleas are available in an array of colors, growth forms and bloom characteristics. New hybrids provide the traditional spring display during March and April, but they also bloom again in the fall, usually during September or early October. They reliably bloom in the spring and fall, but are never quite as covered with a complete carpet of flowers as you might see on a traditional azalea.

Encore® azaleas have the same cultural requirements as traditional azaleas. They should have a pH between 5.0 and 5.5, a well drained organic soil and water during the summer months. Bloom is heavier in brighter locations, with areas having morning sun and afternoon shade probably the best. If pruning is required to control size, thin and shear them in the spring just after bloom.



Author: Sheila Dunning – sdunning@ufl.edu


Sheila Dunning

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/02/03/encore-azaleas-add-one-more-this-spring/

Fall Season Can Mean More Snake Encounters

Fall Season Can Mean More Snake Encounters

In the last few weeks we have received an increase in calls about snake encounters. Most of these have dealt with small juvenile snakes folks are finding on their property, or in their homes, but we are also hearing about large ones.

Corn snakes are excellent climbers and consume a lot of rodents.   Photo: Nick Baldwin

Corn snakes are excellent climbers and consume a lot of rodents.
Photo: Nick Baldwin


Most of the 56 species of snakes found in the southeastern United States breed in spring or summer and this time of year people begin to encounter the juveniles from this year’s brood. The Southern Black Racer has been the most common encounter we have heard from and this is because the young do not resemble the adults at all. But panhandle residents should be aware that there are several species who do breed in the fall and the adults will be seeking each other this time of year increasing your chances of an encounter. Of those that do breed in the fall 16 can be found in the panhandle.


Three of these species are small terrestrial snakes. They would include the Florida Red-Bellied Snake, the Southeastern Crown Snake, and the Southern Ringneck Snake. These are typically less than 15” in length and move at night. They frequent the underbrush where they hunt for insects and small amphibians and are no threat to people or pets.


There are 4 species of local mid-sized snakes that are fall breeders. The Rough Green Snake, Eastern Garter Snake, Eastern Hognose Snake, and the Scarlet Snake are all very common and pose no threat to people and pets. The Green Snake and Scarlet Snake can be found in around trees this time of year and the Eastern Hognose is often confused with the Pygmy Rattlesnake. Hognose differ in that they have round pupils and an upturned nose; of course they lack a rattle as well. Scarlet snake is confused with the Eastern Coral Snake but can be distinguished but their red head (instead of black).

Gray rat snake crossing a driveway.  Photo: Carrie Stevenson

Gray rat snake crossing a driveway.
Photo: Carrie Stevenson


Of the 8 species of large terrestrial snakes only 2 are known to breed in the fall locally. These would be the Gray Rat Snake and the Eastern Indigo. Both of these snakes can easily reach 6 ft. in length and tend to terrify people but in reality these are both rather docile and consume a significant number of disease carrying rodents; Indigos will actually feed on venomous snakes helping to control their populations. The Eastern Indigo Snake has not been seen in the Florida panhandle since the late 1990’s and is current listed as an endangered species in our state.


We have 15 species of non-venomous water snakes in the southeastern U.S. but only 1 local is a fall breeder; the Queen Snake. This snake is found in all panhandle counties except those along the coastal portion of the Apalachicola River; Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Wakulla counties. As a group water snakes tend to be aggressive, and some can be quite large, but they pose no danger to people and pets.


Finally the ones most are concerned with. There are 6 species of venomous snakes in the southeastern U.S. All 6 can be found in the panhandle and all 6 breed in the fall. This means that males will be out seeking females and encounters could occur. Copperheads are rare in Florida but are most often encountered along the region of the Apalachicola River. These snakes tend to be cryptic and move very little. They will release a musk to warn that you are getting to close. There are 2 subspecies of Cottonmouths in the panhandle. The Florida Cottonmouth is found in the coastal counties of the Apalachicola River (mentioned) and the Eastern Cottonmouth is found elsewhere. They prefer water but will move upland during the cooler months. They have a reputation of being aggressive but are actually no more aggressive than other snakes. Like most, they are trying to avoid you. The Eastern Coral Snake is the only neurotoxic snake in our state. This animal moves through the underbrush seeking prey, including other snakes. They are rarely encountered but are quite common. 


The familiar face of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Photo: Nick Baldwin

The familiar face of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.
Photo: Nick Baldwin

Then there are the most feared of the group – the rattlesnakes. The Timber Rattlesnake is actually not that common in Florida but many travel to Georgia and Alabama during deer season where they are common. The Eastern Diamondback and the Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnakes are common here. All three species breed in the fall and could be encountered this time of year.


Many of our local snakes will den during these cooler months and some in groups. All should be aware of this when exploring stump holes and such while visiting the outdoors. Also know that on warm sunny days they may venture out to bask in the sun; another chance to encounter them.


For more information on how to handle an encounter or a snake bite visit the Escambia County Extension website ( http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu ) or contact Rick O’Connor at 850-475-5230; roc1@ufl.edu .


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2014/10/10/fall-season-can-mean-more-snake-encounters/

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