Tag Archive: Rain

Summer Rain in the Florida Panhandle

Summer Rain in the Florida Panhandle

ARTICLE BY DR. MATT DEITCH; water quality specialist – University of Florida Milton

Summer is a great time for weather-watching in the Florida panhandle. Powerful thunderstorms appear out of nowhere, and can pour inches of rain in an area in a single afternoon. Our bridges, bluffs, and coastline allow us to watch them develop from a distance. Yet as they come closer, it is important to recognize the potential danger they pose—lightning from these storms can strike anywhere nearby, and can cause fatality for a person who is struck. Nine people were killed by lightning strike in Florida in 2016 alone, more than in any other state. Because of the risk posed by lightning, my family and I enjoy these storms up-close from indoors.

Carpenter’s Creek in Pensacola
Photo: Dr. Matt Deitch

A fraction of the rain that falls during these storms is delivered to our bays, bayous, and estuaries through a drainage network of creeks and rivers. This streamflow serves several important ecological functions, including preventing vegetation encroachment and maintaining habitat features for fish and amphibians through scouring the streambed. High flows also deposit fine sediment on the floodplain, helping to replenish nutrients to floodplain soil. On average, only about one-third of the water that falls as rain (on average, more than 60 inches per year!) turns into streamflow. The rest may either infiltrate soil and percolate into groundwater; or be consumed and transpired by plants; or evaporate off vegetation, from the soil, or the ground surface before reaching the soil. Evaporation and transpiration play an especially large role in the water cycle during summer: on average, most of the rain that falls in the Panhandle occurs during summer, but most stream discharge occurs during winter.

The water that flows in streams carries with it many substances that accumulate in the landscape. These substances—which include pollutants we commonly think of, such as excessive nutrients comprised of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as silt, oil, grease, bacteria, and trash—are especially abundant when streamflow is high, typically during and following storm events. Oil, grease, bacteria, and trash are especially common in urban areas. The United States EPA and Florida Department of Environmental Protection have listed parts of the Choctawhatchee, St. Andrew, Perdido, and Pensacola Bays as impaired for nutrients and coliform bacteria. Pollution issues are not exclusive to the Panhandle: some states (such as Maryland and California) have even developed regulatory guidelines in streams (TMDLs) for trash!

Many local and grassroots organizations are taking the lead on efforts to reduce pollution. Some municipalities have recently publicized efforts to enforce laws on picking up pet waste, which is considered a potential source of coliform bacteria in some places. Some conservation groups in the panhandle organize stream debris pick-up days from local streams, and others organize volunteer citizens to monitor water quality in streams and the bays where they discharge. Together, these efforts can help to keep track of pollution levels, demonstrate whether restoration efforts have improved water quality, and maintain healthy beaches and waterways we rely on and value in the Florida Panhandle.

Santa Rosa Sound
Photo: Dr. Matt Deitch

 

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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/2017/07/29/summer-rain-in-the-florida-panhandle/

Rain Gardens – A Solution for Runoff

Rain Gardens – A Solution for Runoff

This rain garden used stone for a berm and muhly grass as a decorative and functional plant. Photo credit, Jerry Patee

Tropical Storm Cindy’s early arrival soaked northwest Florida this month, followed by even more heavy rain. Homes in low areas and along the rivers flooded and suffered extensive damage. That being said, we are just entering our summer “rainy season,” so it may be wise to spend extra time thinking about adjusting your landscape to handle our typically heavy annual rainfall.

For example, if you have an area in your yard where water always runs after a storm (even a mild one) and washes out your property, you may want to consider a rain garden for that spot. Rain gardens are designed to temporarily hold rainwater and allow it to soak into the ground. However, they are quite different aesthetically from stormwater ponds, because they are planted with water-tolerant trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers to provide an attractive alternative to the eroding gully that once inhabited the area! Rain gardens are not “created wetlands,” but landscaped beds that can handle both wet and drier conditions. Many of the plants best suited for rain gardens are also attractive to wildlife, adding another element of beauty to the landscape.

A perfect spot for a rain garden might be downhill from a rain gutter, an area notorious for excess water and erosion. To build a rain garden, the rainwater leaving a particular part of the property (or rooftop), is directed into a gently sloping, 4”-8” deep depression in the ground, the back and sides of which are supported by a berm of earth. The rain garden serves as a catch basin for the water and is usually shaped like a semi-circle. The width of the rain garden depends on the slope and particular site conditions in each yard. Within the area, native plants are placed into loose, sandy soil and mulched.   Care should be taken to prevent the garden from having a very deep end where water pools, rather allowing water to spread evenly throughout the basin.

This larger rain garden, or bioretention area, functions as stormwater treatment for a large parking lot in North Carolina. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF / IFAS Extension

Besides reducing a problematic area of the lawn, a rain garden can play an important role in improving water quality. With increasing populations come more pavement, roads, and rooftops, which do almost nothing to absorb or treat stormwater, contributing to the problem. Vegetation and soil do a much better job at handling stormwater. Excess sediment, which can fill in streams and bays, and chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides are just some of the pollutants treated within a rain garden via the natural growth processes of the plants.

A handful of well-known plants that work great in rain gardens include: Louisiana iris, cinnamon fern, buttonbush, Virginia willow, black-eyed Susan, swamp lily, tulip poplar, oakleaf hydrangea, wax myrtle, Florida azalea, river birch, holly, and Southern magnolia. For a complete list of rain garden plants appropriate for our area, visit the “Rain Garden” section of Tallahassee’s “Think about Personal Pollution” website.

For design specifications on building a rain garden, visit the UF Green Building site or contact your local UF IFAS County Extension office.

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Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/07/05/rain-gardens-a-solution-for-runoff/

Rain Keeping You from Applying Gypsum to Your Peanuts this Year?

Rain Keeping You from Applying Gypsum to Your Peanuts this Year?

Soil calcium in the pegging zone of peanuts can be increased by adding gypsum at early bloom without raising soil pH. Credit: Glenn Harris

Area farmers have had numerous challenges to deal with already in this growing season.  With so much rain over the past two weeks, many farmers have had their production schedule wrecked.  Questions have been coming in about a wide range of crop issues, because wet fields have delayed management practices.  One that has been repeated numerous times this week is, “What to do if you have not applied gypsum yet to your peanuts and your fields are still wet?

Dr Glenn Harris, UGA Soil Specialist, makes the following suggestion related to answering this key question:
If you’re worried about missing a gypsum application due to all the rain this year, you should look at your soil Ca test results.  UGA research shows that there is no yield response to additional Ca applications, if initial soil test levels are above 250 mg Ca/kg soil (same as ppm).  However, if peanut seed is being grown, a gypsum application is needed regardless.  Of course, it would be preferable to get a gypsum application down if you can. 
Injection of CaCl during peak pod fill (60-90 days) is an option for peanuts under a pivot, if growers are concerned about replacing Ca leached out of the pegging zone.  My recommendation is to apply 10 gal/a.  In my research I applied it at 75 days after planting. It may not sound like a lot of Ca per acre, but unlike lime and gypsum it is 100 % available.

Gypsum should be applied to peanuts at this stage of growth, and is especially critical for non-irrigated peanuts.  Photo by David Wright

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Author: Michael Mulvaney – m.mulvaney@ufl.edu

Cropping Systems Specialist, University of Florida, West Florida Research and Education Center, Jay, FL. Follow me @TheDirtDude
http://wfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/people/faculty/dr-michael-mulvaney/

Michael Mulvaney

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/07/03/rain-keeping-you-from-applying-gypsum-to-your-peanuts-this-year/

Has Excess Rain Affected your Cotton Fertility Program?

Has Excess Rain Affected your Cotton Fertility Program?

Michael J. Mulvaney, UF/IFAS Soil Specialist & Glen Harris, UGA Soil Specialist

If you’re like me, you’re watching this rain and wondering where your nutrients are in the soil profile.  The Jay FAWN station has recorded almost 20″ of rain so far in June.  Last week we talked about peanut gypsum application, but this week we’d like to talk about cotton.

Nitrogen (N)

If you applied at-plant N, you might want to re-apply some of it, if you’ve had leaching rainfall events this season.  For BMP purposes, you should document the amount of rainfall to show that leaching likely occurred on your soils.  If you only apply one application at first square, you likely haven’t applied any N yet this season – so there’s still time for you.

To see if you are N deficient, there are commercial cotton petiole tests available from public and private labs in the Southeast. See http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/FeeSchedule/Complete.pdf for more information.  You can also sample representative areas for the youngest fully mature leaf (without petiole).  The leaf tissue N should be in the range of 3.5 to 4.5% N for sufficiency.

Potassium (K)

Those of you on deep sand or soils with no subsoil clay within the top 20 inches should think about K as well.  Modern cotton cultivars have higher K demand than N demand, and K is susceptible to leaching, particularly on very sandy soils.  If you are on deep, sandy soils, you probably already know that you should split your K applications at planting and topdress. Cotton K demand can exceed 3 lbs K2O per acre per day during flowering. Peak K demand comes during flowering and boll set, so K deficiency during this period can lead to boll shed, reduced lint quality, and/or reduced yield.

Source: O. Abaye. 2009. Potassium Fertilization of Cotton. Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 418-025

K deficiency in cotton shows up as bronzing of leaves and is affiliated with increased Stemphylium disease, as seen below.

Potassium deficiency in cotton appears as bronzing of the leaves. Photo: M. Mulvaney

Oftentimes, we have sufficient soil K according to soil test results, but drought conditions leads to a lack of K in soil water and the plant can’t take it up.  There is still plenty of time for that to happen.  But so far this year, it’s likely to be the opposite problem on deep, sandy soils: K has leached from the rooting zone after you’ve taken your soil samples.

Boron (B)

Boron also leaches easily from sandy soils.  If you are concerned about boron, and you are making a fungicide application at first bloom for Target Spot control, you can consider adding 0.3-0.5 lbs B as a tank mix.  Boron deficiency in cotton is more evident in younger leaf tissue and shows up as stunted or disfigured terminal growing points and shorter, thicker petioles with “coon tailing” visible on the petioles.

Boron deficiency in cotton with “coon tailing” visible on the petioles. Photo credit: Darrin Dodds & Bobby Golden, Mississippi State University

For more information related to this subject, use the following publication link:

Cotton Cultural Practices and Fertility Management

 

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Author: Michael Mulvaney – m.mulvaney@ufl.edu

Cropping Systems Specialist, University of Florida, West Florida Research and Education Center, Jay, FL. Follow me @TheDirtDude
http://wfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/people/faculty/dr-michael-mulvaney/

Michael Mulvaney

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/07/03/has-excess-rain-affected-your-cotton-fertility-program/

Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Planting – Wait for the Rain

Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Planting – Wait for the Rain

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated at the University of Florida's North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated in 2013 at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

It should be too late in the year for an article about cool season food plots; they should already be up and growing, at the very least planted. It’s November, archery season has begun, the fall food plot ship should have already sailed. However, due to the incredibly dry weather we’ve had for the past several months I hope that ship hasn’t sailed. I hope you have not planted your food plots yet. The tristate area is dry, too dry to plant anything you expect to survive. If you have not already planted, don’t until your area gets substantial rain.

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?southeast

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast.

The saying goes “The best time to go hunting is whenever I have time”. As the classic weekend-warrior sportsman myself, I can easily relate to that saying and I can also understand how/why folks would apply that same logic to planting food plots. Unfortunately, with this fall’s weather that logic does not hold true. Any plantings made before we have adequate moisture run a very high chance of being complete failures.

These likely failures can playout in a variety of ways but they all end the same. Seedlings have tiny roots systems, moisture must be accessible very near the soil surface in order for them to access it. If moisture is unavailable in the tiny root zone the seedlings will wilt. Wilting greatly diminishes the plants ability to carry out photosynthesis; no photosynthesis no energy. Seedlings have virtually no stored energy to fall back on, so the seedlings begin to die rapidly.

Admittedly, I left out one key detail in the plant horror story above; moisture is required for seed germination. If it is dry enough seeds can be planted and nothing will happen – they won’t germinate, they won’t try to grow, they won’t die from lack of moisture. This fact leads some to conclude, “Plant now and it will come up whenever it rains”. While there is some sound logic in that conclusion, it is a very risky plan when you consider the types of plants we typically include in our wildlife plots. “Dusting in” as it is called in the crop world, can work with larger seeded, deeper planted crops. It is not well suited to small seeded, very shallow planted forages like clover. When a seed is right at the soil surface the tiniest amount of rain or even a heavy dew could provide enough moisture for germination which would likely start the process I described earlier.

The safest bet is to wait until your area has received a good soaking rain and there is a favorable chance for additional rains. As dry as we are now, that first ½ inch shower will not provide adequate moisture for establishment if it is followed by an extended period without additional rain.

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions. From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions.
From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

Sooner or later it will rain (I think), so you wind up planting your plots later than normal. What does that mean? In the grand scheme of things, not much. As we get later in the year the days get shorter and the air and soil temperatures get lower which can slow the development of the plants. That said, the real growth for most of our cool season forages really occurs in the spring and that will still be that case regardless of if you planted in October, November or December. Remember the goal of food plots should be increasing the quality and quantity of forage available for wildlife throughout the entire year.

The dry weather has messed up food plot establishment as it relates to hunting season but if all you wanted was a game attractant for hunting purposes food plots were probably not your best bet in the first place. It takes considerable time, effort and expense to maintain quality food plots, to the point that they are really not a very practical option if only viewed as an attractant for a few months out of the year.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

Be patient, wait for the weather conditions to improve before planting. There is no point in wasting your time and money on plantings that have a very low chance of being successful. Contact your county’s agriculture or natural resources agent for more details relating to the establishment of wildlife plots.

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Author: Mark Mauldin – mdm83@ufl.edu

I am the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Washington County. My program areas include livestock and forage, row crops, and pond management.
http://washington.ifas.ufl.edu

Mark Mauldin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/07/dont-rush-wildlife-plot-planting-wait-for-the-rain/

Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Plantings – Wait on Rain

Don’t Rush Wildlife Plot Plantings – Wait on Rain

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated at the University of Florida's North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo Courtesy of Holly Ober

A buck chases a doe through plots of wildlife forages being evaluated at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center. Photo:  Holly Ober

It should be too late in the year for an article about cool season food plots; they should already be up and growing, at the very least planted. It’s November, archery season has begun, the fall food plot ship should have already sailed. However, due to the incredibly dry weather we’ve had for the past several months I hope that ship hasn’t sailed. I hope you have not planted your food plots yet. The tristate area is really dry, too dry to plant anything you expect to survive. If you have not already planted, don’t, until your area gets substantial rain.

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast

Very dry conditions persist across the Southeast

The saying goes “The best time to go hunting is whenever I have time.”  As the classic weekend-warrior sportsman myself, I can easily relate to that saying and I can also understand how/why folks would apply that same logic to planting food plots. Unfortunately, with this fall’s weather, that logic does not hold true. Any plantings made, before we have adequate moisture, run a very high chance of being complete failures.

These likely failures can play-out in a variety of ways, but they all end the same. Seedlings have tiny roots systems; moisture must be accessible very near the soil surface in order for them to access it. If moisture is unavailable in the tiny root zone the seedlings will wilt. Wilting greatly diminishes the plants ability to carry out photosynthesis; no photosynthesis no energy. Seedlings have virtually no stored energy to fall back on, so the seedlings begin to die rapidly.

Admittedly, I left out one key detail in the plant horror story above; moisture is required for seed germination. If it is completely dry, seeds can be planted and nothing will happen – they won’t germinate, they won’t try to grow, they won’t die from lack of moisture. This fact leads some to conclude, “Plant now and it will come up whenever it rains.” While there is some sound logic in that conclusion, it is a very risky plan when you consider the types of plants we typically include in our wildlife plots. “Dusting in” as it is called in the crop world, can work with larger seeded, deeper planted crops. It is not well suited to small seeded, very shallow planted forages like clover. When a seed is right at the soil surface the tiniest amount of rain or even a heavy dew could provide enough moisture for germination, which would likely start the process I described earlier.

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions. From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

Many of the commonly planted cool season forages have very small seeds and should be planted very shallow, making them especially susceptible to drought conditions.
From 2015 Cool-Season Forage Variety Recommendations for Florida

The safest bet is to wait until your area has received a good soaking rain, and there is a favorable chance for additional rains. As dry as we are now, that first ½ inch shower will not provide adequate moisture for establishment, if it is followed by an extended period without additional rain.

Sooner or later it will rain (I think), so you wind up planting your plots later than normal. What does that mean? In the grand scheme of things, not much. As we get later in the year the days get shorter and the air and soil temperatures get lower which can slow the development of the plants. That said, the real growth for most of our cool season forages really occurs in the spring, and that will still be that case regardless of if you planted in October, November, or December. Remember the goal of food plots should be increasing the quality and quantity of forage available for wildlife throughout the entire year.

The dry weather has messed up food plot establishment as it relates to hunting season, but if all you wanted was a game attractant for hunting purposes, food plots were probably not your best bet in the first place. It takes considerable time, effort and expense to maintain quality food plots, to the point that they are really not a very practical option if only viewed as an attractant for a few months out of the year. If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Be sure to check FWC regulations before you begin feeding game animals.

If attracting deer, not improving habitat, is your primary goal you might consider establishing a feeding station. Photo: Mark Mauldin

Be patient, wait for the weather conditions to improve before planting. There is no point in wasting your time and money on plantings that have a very low chance of being successful. Contact your county’s agriculture or natural resources agent for more details relating to the establishment of wildlife plots.

 

PG

Author: Mark Mauldin – mdm83@ufl.edu

I am the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Washington County. My program areas include livestock and forage, row crops, and pond management.
http://washington.ifas.ufl.edu

Mark Mauldin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/11/05/dont-rush-wildlife-plot-plantings-wait-on-rain/

2016 Peanut Field Day a Success in Spite of the Rain

Variety Image_Field Day

Field plots showcasing different peanut varieties. Photo by Doug Mayo.

Despite the rainy weather, the annual UF/IFAS Peanut Field Day was held on Thursday, August 11, 2016. The event took place at the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC), where specialists from both Florida and Georgia spoke to attendees regarding research findings and production management. Roughly 150 people turned out for the event regardless of the gathering storm clouds and weather forecast. Jackie Burns, UF/IFAS Dean for Research and Sherry Larkin, Associate Dean of Resaerch came to experience the Peanut Field Day. The event was off to a good start when showers halted the field tours.  Fortunately, the speakers were prepared for this situation and used PowerPoint presentations while indoors to convey their messages to the group.

Tillman_Burns_Field Day

Tour group (including Dean Burns) listening to Dr. Barry Tillman speak on the characteristics of different peanut varieties. Photo by Matt Lollar.

Continuing education units (CEUs) were available for Florida, Georgia, and Alabama pesticide license holders, as well as for Certified Crop Advisors. The event included six presentations from a combination of Extension specialists, county agents, UF graduate students, and sponsor exhibits.

The Peanut Field Day concentrated on different production strategies and management practices that help minimize costs for producers. Topics addressed included insect and disease management, herbicide use, crop production, irrigation impact on root development, and variety updates.

Mark Abney, UGA Peanut Entomologist, spoke to attendees about several insects such as tobacco thrips, spider mites, and lesser cornstalk borers to name a few. He offered insight on which products could be used to treat for different insects and how certain product applications may lead to other issues (pyrethroids kill caterpillars, but flare spider mite populations).

Mark Abney, UGA Peanut Entomologist, spoke to attendees about several insects such as tobacco thrips, spider mites, and lesser cornstalk borers. PhotoCredit: Doug Mayo

Mark Abney, UGA Peanut Entomologist, spoke to attendees about several insects that are peanut pests, such as tobacco thrips, spider mites, and lesser cornstalk borers. PhotoCredit: Doug Mayo

Ramon Leon, UF/IFAS Weed Specialist, showed pictures of and discussed chemical injury from several herbicides (Valor, Dual Magnum, etc.) and also gave examples on how to prevent damage from these products.

Leon_Field Day

Dr. Ramon Leon speaking to the crowd indoors after rain caught the tours in the field. Photo by Ethan Carter.

With all the rain from the past week or so, it was only natural to get a pathologist’s perspective on these conditions, the emergence of diseases, and how best to combat them. Attendees were lucky enough to hear from two Extension pathologists: Nick Dufault from UF/IFAS, and Bob Kemerait from UGA. Dr. Dufault explained how, based on his trials replicated across Florida (Citra, Quincy, Marianna, Jay), he can show that different pathogens and diseases have been more prevalent in certain locations than others. He also discussed the necessity of rotating chemistries and using products with multiple modes of action to increase disease control and minimize the risks associated with resistance from using a similar product repeatedly.

Dr. Nick Dufault speaking to attendees on fungicides and disease management. Photo by Bob Kemerait

Dr. Nick Dufault speaking to attendees on fungicides and disease management. Photo by Bob Kemerait

Even though it did rain during the tours, the field day was still quite a success. Producers from the region learned about some of the latest research on growing peanuts, and had the opportunity to discuss their own production questions directly with the specialists.  We certainly appreciate all of our program sponsors; an event of this magnitude would not be possible without their support.

FieldDaySponsors_2016

 

 

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Author: Ethan Carter – ethancarter@ufl.edu

Ethan Carter is the Regional Row Crop IPM Agent in Jackson County. He earned his BS in Food and Resource Economics, and his MS in Agronomy, both from the University of Florida.

Ethan Carter

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/08/12/2016-peanut-field-day-a-success-in-spite-of-the-rain/

“And then it began to rain”… the April edition of Discovering the Panhandle

“And then it began to rain”… the April edition of Discovering the Panhandle

As we left the winter months and headed into spring I was expecting a lot of new blooms, new animal tracks, and more live encounters with wildlife… and then the rain began.  I do not know if the entire panhandle has been getting what Pensacola has but the rain has been nonstop for over a week now.  I track rain days for a water quality project and for the first three months of 2015 the number of days during a month where it rained was between 23-30%.  We are about half way through April and so far it has rained 61% of the days.  WELL… rain or shine we will make this hike and see what is happening on our barrier island.

Hole left by a sand castle architect.  These can be problems for wildlife and rescue vehicles.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

Hole left by a sand castle architect. These can be problems for wildlife and rescue vehicles. Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing I noticed when I began the trip along the Gulf was this large hole left by a sand castle architect.  These can be problematic for some forms of wildlife, including sea turtles, but they can also be a problem for rescue and turtle watch vehicles.  Please enjoy the beach and make awesome sand castles, but when you are finished please fill the hole.

Sargassum is floating form of brown algae.  Notice the "air bladders" (pneumatocyst) Photo: Rick O'Connor

Sargassum is floating form of brown algae. Notice the “air bladders” (pneumatocyst) Photo: Rick O’Connor

A tropical seed commonly referred to as a sea bean.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

A tropical seed commonly referred to as a sea bean. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The line of seaweed and debris along the surf zone is called wrack.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The line of seaweed and debris along the surf zone is called wrack. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The line of seaweed and debris that washes ashore during storms is called the wrack.  For the most part it is natural material and provides the nutrients needed for many of the high energy shoreline plants to grow.  Many of the beach animals found in the berm and primary dune depend on this wrack as well.  Many locals and visitors find this material and eye sore and, at times, producing an unpleasant odor.  But this material is an important part of the beach ecology.  Sargassum is a drifting member of the brown algae, sometimes called “gulfweed”.  It possess small air bladder structures called pneumatocysts that allow it to remain at the surface of the open Gulf where the sunlight is.  These large offshore mats of Sargassum have been targets for local fishermen for decades.  Many small invertebrates live in these drifting mats and these are targets for small fish, which in turn are targets for even larger sport fish.  They are also the hideaway for sea turtle hatchlings.  When the little guys head for the Gulf after hatching this is where they are heading.  Large ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream, push Sargassum into large mats in the middle of the open ocean.  The area within the Atlantic where this happens in known as the Sargasso Sea.  If you get a chance this summer, grab a small hand net and mask when the Sargassum is just offshore.  Collecting you may find a lot of cool interesting creatures.  Sea Beans is a generic word for a variety of tropical seeds that wash ashore in the northern Gulf.  Some of these may sprout, including mangroves, but most will not make it through our winters.

 

The Blue Button Jellyfish is a tropical cousin of the Portuguese man-of-war.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The Blue Button Jellyfish is a tropical cousin of the Portuguese man-of-war. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Portuguese Man-of-War is one of the more venomous jellyfish in Florida waters.  Photo: Rick O'Connor.

The Portuguese Man-of-War is one of the more venomous jellyfish in Florida waters. Photo: Rick O’Connor.

A variety of shorebirds utilize the wrack.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

A variety of shorebirds utilize the wrack. Photo: Rick O’Connor

One of the more venomous jellyfish in Florida waters is now making its way onto our shores. The Portuguese man-of-war, named for the many “guns” this animal possess, is well known by locals but not so much by some of our visitors. The man-of-war is actually not one animal but a colony of sedentary polyp jellyfish that produce an inflated bag which floats at the surface carrying them across the sea. The dark blue tentacles hang down into the water column where passing fish are stung and consumed. Each of the polyps have connecting stomachs which helps move the food around to the whole colony. The sting of this jellyfish is quite painful and should be avoided. When they arrive life guards will usually fly a purple flag.

Their close cousins, the Blue Button Jelly, is very similar to the man-of-war albeit they are much smaller and the venom is not as potent. They are more tropical and not common along the northern Gulf but in recent years more have been washing ashore; they are here now.

 

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf.  Each is a potential problem for marine life.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Pieces of plastic ribbon resemble jellyfish tentacles and are frequently consumed by sea turtles.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

Pieces of plastic ribbon resemble jellyfish tentacles and are frequently consumed by sea turtles. Photo: Rick O’Connor

One of the bigger issues are oceans are facing are discarded plastics. These materials takes years to decompose and are found in all oceans and seas. Even some distant isolated islands have huge piles of this form of marine debris. Plastics can entangle marine organisms or they may actually swallow it, plugging their digestive system and eventually starving them. We encourage locals and visitors alike to help with this problem by taking your trash with you and discarding it in a location where it will not reach the Gulf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ephemeral pond formed around a small dune which becomes a temporary island.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

This ephemeral pond formed around a small dune which becomes a temporary island. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Chinese tallow is an invasive species the entire state is dealing with.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The Chinese tallow is an invasive species the entire state is dealing with. Photo: Rick O’Connor

With the heavy rains of the last week ephemeral ponds have formed on parts of the island. These small pockets of freshwater can be “manna from heaven” for many island residents, particularly the amphibians. I have been hiking this section of Pensacola beach for years, leading field trips for all sorts of groups. I have never seen this Chinese Tallow until today. Also known as the “popcorn tree” due to its unique looking fruit, this plant is listed as an invasive in the state of Florida and is very aggressive. I did not see any others and will seek permission to remove it before it spreads to other dunes and out competes the native plants.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the few plants blooming in April, the Spiderwort is a common weed in many lawns.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

One of the few plants blooming in April, the Spiderwort is a common weed in many lawns. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The blossoms of Conradina first appeared in February.  They are all but gone this time of year.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The blossoms of Conradina first appeared in February. They are all but gone this time of year. Photo: Rick O’Connor

I was actually expecting more flowers to be in bloom this month but there were few. The Conradina, which have been in bloom since February, have lost most of its blossoms. The “new kids on the block” are the Spiderwort, the Primrose, the Sandhill Milkweed, and the Devil’s Joint Cactus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a variety of primrose that grow on our barrier islands.  They are beginning to bloom now.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

There are a variety of primrose that grow on our barrier islands. They are beginning to bloom now. Photo: Rick O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

new growth on a pine tree. Photo: Rick O'Connor

New growth on a pine tree. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Sandhill Milkweed.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The Sandhill Milkweed. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Sandhill Milkweed is one of the plants used by the monarch butterfly to gain fuel for their great flight across the Gulf to Mexico. The milky toxic sap of this plant is consumed by the monarch caterpillar but it does not harm it. The chemical toxins therefore become a defense for the monarch and the butterfly has earned the respect of many birds; though it may be a trial and error learning experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A decomposing log is a microhabitat for many organisms. Photo: Rick O'Connor

A decomposing log is a microhabitat for many organisms. Photo: Rick O’Connor

New growth on a live oak.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

New growth on a live oak. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Most environmental centers, state and federal parks, leave fallen trees where they lie. The tree is actually a storage house of nutrients and full of cavities that can be used by a lot of organisms within the beach community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mysterious "drags" we have seen the last three months were not to be found in April.  Photo: Rick O'Connor.

The mysterious “drags” we have seen the last three months were not to be found in April. Photo: Rick O’Connor.

The beautiful yellow bloom of the Devil-Joint cactus.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The beautiful yellow bloom of the Devil-Joint cactus. Photo: Rick O’Connor

This month the weather was warm enough for me to venture into the Salt Marsh. Salt marshes are wetlands but differ from swamps in that the dominate plants are grasses, not trees. Our local salt marsh is dominated by two species of grass, the Smooth Cordgrass, and the Black Needlerush. There are many other plants that exist here but these are the most common. This particular marsh is dominated by Black Needlerush. Salt marshes are one of the most productive systems on the planet, producing tons of organic material annually. 90% of the commercially valuable marine species spend part or all of their lives here. There are many unique species to this system as well. Today the water was crystal clear but I saw few fish. I expect as it gets warmer we will see more. It is very possible that with the heavy rains that they have moved to deeper, saltier spots in the Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

It's warm enough to enter the salt marsh.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

It’s warm enough to enter the salt marsh. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The marsh periwinkle is one of the more common mollusk found in our salt marsh.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

The marsh periwinkle is one of the more common mollusk found in our salt marsh. Photo: Rick O’Connor

The Marsh Periwinkle is an interesting guy. This snail will crawl up the stalks of marsh plants during high tide to avoid predators like blue crab and diamondback terrapins. Both of these predators appear to be on the decline and it will be interesting to see how this impacts the ecology of the marsh. At low tide the periwinkles descend and feed on the organic leaf litter on the muddy bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dewberry has flowered and the dark fruit will be ready next month.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

This dewberry has flowered and the dark fruit will be ready next month. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Gracilaria is a common epiphytic red algae growing in our seagrass beds.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

Gracilaria is a common epiphytic red algae growing in our seagrass beds. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Black Needlerush is one of the two dominant plants of our salt marshes.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

Black Needlerush is one of the two dominant plants of our salt marshes. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Though it has a white appearance, Gracilaria is a member of the red algae group. This algae grows on seagrasses as Spanish moss grows on oaks. The plant is usually kept in check by herbivorous grazers, such as green sea turtles, but in recent decades the number of predators have declined and the amount of nutrient runoff has increased. This has sparked a increase in the growth of this algae and, in some cases, to the determent of the seagrass itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This eroded pine tree gives evidence of the ever changing shorelines of our barrier islands.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

This eroded pine tree gives evidence of the ever changing shorelines of our barrier islands. Photo: Rick O’Connor

This submerged mound of peat is the remnants of a salt marsh which is now below sea level.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

This submerged mound of peat is the remnants of a salt marsh which is now below sea level. Photo: Rick O’Connor

These photos of peat and the eroded tree are indications of a changing shoreline. Due to storms, boat wake, and time, the shoreline of Santa Rosa Island, like all barrier islands, is changing. Peat is actually the remnants of an old salt marsh that has now pass the high tide line and is within the Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trash left behind by those enjoying the beach.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

Trash left behind by those enjoying the beach. Photo: Rick O’Connor

We encourage those who pack it in... pack it out.  Photo: Rick O'Connor

We encourage those who pack it in… to pack it out. Photo: Rick O’Connor

As the weather has warmed and spring break has fallen upon us I have noticed an increase in the amount of trash on this hike, both the Gulf of Sound sides. We encourage locals to take their trash with them and encourage visitors to do the same. Let’s try to keep our waste out of our waters.

 

 

I am expecting some animal nesting in May. We will see what we find. Until then.

 

 

PG

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/2015/04/18/and-then-it-began-to-rain-the-april-edition-of-discovering-the-panhandle/

What To Do with All This Rain? Plant a Rain Garden!

What To Do with All This Rain? Plant a Rain Garden!

Rain gardens are an easy way to return water to our aquifer, reduce erosion, and help prevent stormwater runoff.

Running down the driveway or patio, rainwater can pick up lawn chemicals and pesticides. A rain garden is basically a low section of the landscape planted with native plants that like to get their “feet” wet. The garden collects rainwater, giving it a chance to “strain” out impurities before draining into the aquifer.

DSCN1608

Swamp sunflower. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

 

They work best when they’re placed at the bottom of downspouts or naturally low spots in the landscape, usually where water tends to puddle. They’re especially useful for collecting runoff from paved surfaces. Rain gardens can be any size or shape and can attract thirsty wildlife.

When selecting plants, you’ll need to consider how much sun your site gets and how much space is available. Make sure you select plants that are not just water-tolerant, but also drought-tolerant for the times between rains.

Rain gardens rely on plants that will survive dry spells but then soak up excess stormwater during Florida’s rainy months, preventing the water from running across your landscape.

Blue flag iris. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

Blue flag iris. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

Include different types of plants in your rain garden to create a complete and cohesive look that will provide year-round interest. The following is a short list of flowers, shrubs, and grasses that would perform well in a rain garden.

Flowers:

  • Blue flag iris
  • Goldenrod
  • Swamp sunflower
  • Spider lily
  • Milkweed

Grasses:

  • Florida gamma grass
  • Muhly grass
  • Wiregrass

Shrubs:

  • Virginia willow
  • Buttonbush
  • Wax myrtle

Here is a list of native plants that will do well in your North Florida rain garden. As always consult your local Extension Office for more information. All of the information in this article was provided by UF/IFAS Extension.

PG

Author: Taylor Vandiver – tavandiver@ufl.edu

Taylor Vandiver

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/04/14/what-to-do-with-all-this-rain-plant-a-rain-garden/

We Had Plenty of Rain; Why Are My Trees Dying?

 

Most trees are not well adapted to saturated soil conditions.  With nearly daily rainfall this spring and summer, sometimes in record amounts, the ground became inundated with water.  When the root environment is dramatically changed by excess moisture, especially during the growing season, a tree’s entire physiology is altered. This condition may resultdeclining oak in the death of the tree.

Water saturated soil reduces the supply of oxygen to tree roots, raises the pH of the soil, and changes the rate of decomposition of organic material; all of which weakens the tree, making it more susceptible to indirect damage from insects and diseases.  Additionally, with heavy rainfall there is erosion and sediment movement.  Exposed roots or roots covered by excess soil add stress to plants.  When the rain finally stops, often the tree’s system has been so compromised that it can’t perform the vital functions necessary to survive – it just dies.

 

 soil air space                When the ground becomes completely saturated a tree’s metabolic processes begin to change very quickly.  Photosynthesis is shut down within five hours; the tree is in starvation mode, living on stored starches, unable to make more food.  Water moves into and occupies all available pore spaces that once held oxygen.  Any remaining oxygen is utilized within three hours.  The lack of oxygen prevents the normal decomposition of organic matter which leads to the production and accumulation of toxic gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen oxide.  root oxygenAdditionally, within seven days there is a noticeable root growth loss.  Roots only develop when soil oxygen levels are at 5% -15%.  Over time, the decaying roots are attacked by pathogens.  The loss of root mass from decay and fungal attack leave the tree prone to drought damage.  After only two weeks of saturated soil conditions the root crown area can have so many problems that decline and even death are imminent.

 

                For plants to function there is a need for nutrient uptake.  However, in saturated soil anaerobic organisms, primarily bacteria, replace the aerobic organisms that once existed in the soil.  These bacteria convert the nitrogen into forms that are unavailable to plants.  Also, manganese, iron and sulfur become limited because the soil pH has increased, making the elements unrecognizable.  With little to no functioning root system, the trees in saturated soils do not have the means to uptake nutrients, even if they were available.

 

                When a tree experiences these anaerobic soil conditions it will exhibit symptoms of leaf loss with minimal to no new leaf formation.  This usually appears two to eight weeks after the soil dries out again.  Many trees will not survive, especially the more juvenile and mature trees.  However, well established trees may still decline several years later, if they experience additional stresses such as drought or root disturbance from construction.

 

                There is little that can be done to combat the damage caused by soil saturation.  However, it is important to enable the tree to conserve its food supply by resisting pruning and to avoid fertilizing until the following growth season.  Removal of mulch will aid in the availability of soil oxygen.  Basically it is a “wait and see” process.  While water is essential to the survival of trees, it can also be a detriment when it is excessive.

 

PG

Author: Sheila Dunning – sdunning@ufl.edu


http://okaloosa.ifas.ufl.edu

Sheila Dunning

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2013/09/30/we-had-plenty-of-rain-why-are-my-trees-dying/

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