Winterizer for North Florida Lawns?

Winterizer for North Florida Lawns?

Proper maintenance all year long is the best way to achieve a healthy lawn. Credit: Jim Stevenson

If you’ve been to a local garden center lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some displays marketing winterizer fertilizer for your lawn. Many of these displays are quite shiny and state all sorts of reasons why you should apply fertilizer to prepare your lawn for winter.

However, as with most purchases, a little consumer research is a good idea before being persuaded by those glossy ads. Where do you find such non-biased, evidence-based information on lawn and garden topics in Florida? UF/IFAS Extension, of course!

UF/IFAS research has found that for warm-season grass species used for North Florida lawns, the last application of fertilizer should occur no later than September. Why so? Well, similar to deciduous tree species, our warm-season grasses, including centipede, St. Augustine, bahia, and zoysia, are adapted to go dormant at the onset of cooler weather.

Once the transition into dormancy begins, the turf is not actively growing, therefore nutrient uptake slows down. Eventually, the turf becomes brown and will remain that way until warmer spring temperatures initiate active growth again.

What about all the glossy ad’s claims regarding improved root growth? When looking over the N-P-K values of winterizer fertilizers, you will notice that most have a high third number, indicating a greater proportion of potassium. Research does show that adequate potassium levels do make turf more resilient to stress. However, if the turf has been maintained properly throughout the year – proper mowing height, irrigation, and fertilization – then the lawn’s root systems are likely strong enough to get it through winter.

Winterizer fertilizers that contain a high proportion of nitrogen, say over a 5 on the N-P-K analysis, can actually cause your lawn harm. Nitrogen promotes leaf and shoot growth, which is tender to damage from cold weather. If these type products are applied late in the year, new growth is likely to be nipped by a cold snap, causing stress to the lawn, which can lead to greater pest pressure and poor growth the following spring.

For a healthy lawn, there’s no substitute for year-long good care. If you are having a lawn issue or would like more information on fertilizing lawns, please call your local Extension Office or check out some of UF/IFAS’s online resources!

Turfgrass Science Webpage

Florida Lawn Handbook Guide

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Backyard Sugarcane in the Panhandle

Backyard Sugarcane in the Panhandle

Do you want to add a little something different to your landscape? How about something edible, as well as a focal point in your garden? Backyard sugarcane may be just what you are looking for.

Sugarcane, genus Saccharum, is a tropical perennial grass that thrives in humid environments across the southern United States. Based on physical and chemical characteristics, there are 3 types of sugarcane. Chewing canes (Yellow Gal, Georgia Red varieties) are soft, with fibers that stick together when chewed. Many of these canes are also used for syrup production. Crystal canes, used mainly for commercial purposes, contain a high percentage of sucrose. This is the molecule that crystalizes into granular sugar. Syrup canes (Louisiana Ribbon, Green German varieties) contain less sucrose, therefore less crystallization, making for a more fluid product. Some varieties of each type are interchangeable. For example, some crystal canes are satisfactory for chewing cane.

Figure 1: Sugarcane Harvest. Credit: UF/IFAS Communications.



How does one plant sugarcane? Sugarcane is propagated by “seed cane”. Mature cane stalks have nodes, about every 6 inches, that produce buds. The stalks are cut into 2-3 foot segments and then planted. After the following harvest, the sugarcane sprouts from the buds of the old stalks, through a process known as “ratooning”. Be patient when growing sugarcane. It takes approximately 12-14 months for the original planting (seed cane) to produce mature cane, while another year to produce cane from the ratoon.

Seed cane should be planted from mid-August through November. Growth will occur in the spring. Sugarcane can be planted, 4 -10 feet apart, as a single row or multiple rows. A 3-7-inch furrow depth is optimum. Common practice regarding fertilizer is to apply 1 pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per 10 feet of furrow. Plan ahead, as this crop makes a great windbreak for your vegetable garden.

Avoid planting sugarcane in areas of high traffic. The leaves of the cane are very sharp and some sugarcane varieties can fall and obstruct areas. Well drained soils in a sunny area is the perfect environment. Times of stress, such as lower temperatures for long periods of time, poor soil fertility and pH extremes (best range 5.5-6.5) will cause lower yields. Heavy watering with poor drainage conditions of newly planted seed cane can also disrupt bud germination.

Overtime, many varieties will succumb to disease and other environmental factors. To manage sugarcane against weeds, hand weeding and mulching are the best options. Soil inhabiting worms and grubs, stalk borers, termites and aphids are the biggest threats regarding insect pests. Sugarcane is rapidly growing plant and can tolerate most insect infestations and be productive.

Sugarcane is unique as many of the heirloom varieties are still available. So, where does one find seed cane? The classified ads section of the “Market Bulletin” published by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is a good start:

The Panhandle provides a favorable growing environment for this delightful backyard gardening focal point plant. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Information for this article is from the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: Backyard Sugarcane” by L. Baucum, R.W. Rice, and L. Muralles.


UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.


Author: Ray Bodrey –

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

Gardening in the Panhandle

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Slow Cooking Ideas for the Busy Family

Slow Cooking
Photo credit: Pamela Allen

With the weather changing and cooler temperatures on the way, get out the slow cooker for simmering soups and stews that will be waiting for you when you get home. Slow cookers are popular and allow us the convenience of prepping ahead of time and having a hot cooked dish when we get home from a long day of work. The advantage of slow cooking is to set it and then forget it. Stirring is not usually required and remember to keep the lid on as the food simmers. Today’s slow cookers are food safe and keep food at a safe temperature of 170˚F to 280˚F. The low heat allows use of less expensive and leaner cuts of meat as the slow cooking will tenderize and shrink less.

Cooking with a slow cooker means planning ahead but the payoff is a great meal. You can prepare all the ingredients the night before like chopping of vegetables, cutting up the meat and gathering the other items and have them handy for the next morning. Remember to refrigerate all items needing refrigerating until it is time to place in the slow cooker.

Here are some tips or using your slow cooker safely and economically.

  • Start with a clean cooker and utensils. Always use a clean work area and make sure to wash your hands during the preparation.
  • Keep perishables refrigerated until ready to use. Store meat and vegetables separately if preparing ahead of time.
  • Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140° quick enough and could possibly result in a foodborne illness.
  • Keep in mind to not lift the lid unnecessarily during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  • After enjoying your meal, do not leave cooked food to cool down in the cooker. Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate immediately.
  • Do not overload the slow cooker. Fill to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 2/3 full.


Try some of these favorite recipes to get you started:

Hamburger Soup

2 pounds lean ground beef, browned and drained

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons garlic powder

5-6 cups tomato juice

1 cup stewed tomatoes

1 large onion, chopped

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup sliced carrots

2 cups sliced green beans, fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

salt & pepper to taste


Place browned meat in slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to mix well. Cover and cook on LOW for at least 5 hours. Makes 6 servings.


Old-Fashioned Chicken & Rice

2½ cups chicken broth

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast meat, cut into 1-inch pieces or strips

1½ cups long grain rice, uncooked

¼ cup fresh parsley, minced or

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 cup chopped onion

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 (6-ounce) jar sliced mushrooms, undrained

¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours, or until chicken is no longer pink and rice is plumped tender.


Favorite Beef Stew

3 carrots, sliced

3 potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes

2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

salt to taste


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker in order listed. Stir just enough to mix seasonings throughout. Cover and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours, or on HIGH for 5-6 hours. Makes 6-8 servings.

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Spend Smarter This Holiday Season

By adopting a few smart spending strategies, you can help avoid overspending and decrease holiday stress. (UF/IFAS File Photo)

It’s that time again – the most wonderful time of the year!  For many of us, though, it can be a time of stress, frustration, and financial uncertainty as we drive ourselves past our limits to try to make everyone happy and everything perfect.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

First of all, perfect – the type of perfect reserved for TV and movie holidays – is an unrealistic goal.  Focus on what will make you happy while working within your means.  One of the biggest seasonal stressors is spending too much on gifts, food, and home décor.  While it may look beautiful and idyllic at the time, you may suffer buyer’s remorse in the New Year when the bills start rolling in.

The most important thing you can do to help curb holiday spending is to set a budget.  Maybe you love to go all out for Christmas.  Great!  But if this is what you enjoy, you need to make a plan to save the money over the preceding months so it will be available to spend when the time comes.  Spending money you cannot really afford to spend or overusing credit is a surefire way to increase debt and cause strife later.

The holidays should be about family, friends, and the joy of giving.  It should not be a competition to see who can have the biggest, brightest, most fabulous home, gifts, etc.  Retailers and the media may try to convince you – or more to the point, your kids – that you must have the latest this or the greatest that in order to make your holiday complete.  But resist their messaging and stick to your financial guns!

Including children in any discussions about holiday spending is important.  Let them know that you have only a certain amount of money to spend on gifts and help them understand the importance of sticking to your budget.  While you may feel pressured to get everything on your child’s wish list, focusing on a few special items may help you stay within budget.

Cash and debit cards are the best ways to pay.  If the money is coming directly out of your pocket, you may give each purchase a second thought.  Use credit cards wisely.  If you choose to purchase with credit in order to receive airline miles or rewards points, keep close track of your purchases and only charge as much as you can comfortably pay off in its entirety when the bill comes due.  The last thing you need or want is to still be paying off this year’s holiday spending next year.

Some of the most meaningful and treasured gifts are those that come from the heart.  Custom, handmade gifts really show a person you know them well and you care about them.  One large gift for an entire family that everyone can enjoy can also save money over buying something for each individual.  Many people also appreciate a donation in their name to a charity or cause that is near and dear to their hearts.

The holidays do not need to be stressful or break the bank.  By adopting a few smart spending practices, you can enjoy the holidays without the added worry.

For more information about this topic, please read the UF/IFAS publication “Five Steps to Seasonal Savings” at


Author: Samantha Kennedy, M.S. –

Samantha is the Family & Consumer Sciences agent in Wakulla County. She has worked for UF/IFAS Extension since 2004. She has a B.S. in both Microbiology & Cell Science and Nutritional Sciences and an M.S. in Agricultural Education, both from UF. Her areas of expertise are nutrition, health & wellness, chronic disease prevention, food safety, disaster preparedness, and financial literacy. You can reach her via email at or by calling (850) 926-3931.

Living Well in the Panhandle

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What is in Your Pantry?

Pantry Staples
Photo credit: Pamela Allen

With fall around the corner and school starting back, it is time to take inventory of your pantry. You should really dig in and see what is lurking in the dark reaches of your back shelves. This task should be done on a regular basis to help keep foods rotated and use products that are close to expiration. It is also a good idea to refresh items that are low and you use often. Many times we are caught in the middle of preparing our favorite dish and find we are out of an ingredient. By planning and taking stock of what is in your pantry, it will be easier to plan quick and easy meals and hopefully avoid that trip to a fast food establishment to pick up something quick.

Having basic supplies on hand will keep you prepared to put together a family-friendly meal or a last-minute dinner for friends. Try to write down 4 or 5 favorites that your family likes and then keep these items on hand by keeping an inventory of your most used items. A well-stocked and organized pantry will streamline menu planning and save time on your daily food preparation. Your family will thank you for making this easy to use and find items that they most often like to eat. Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Decide where you will house your pantry. It can be a designated cabinet, standalone structure or a built-in pantry. The idea is to define where you will keep these supplies for easy access and organization.

    Pantry – use containers you have on hand.
    Photo credit: Pamela Allen

  2. Inventory what you currently have and use these items first. There are many good inventory ideas you can find online. Keep a clipboard handy with your inventory list so that you can quickly see what you have on hand and what you need to add to the grocery list. Look for sales that are cost saving to stretch your food budget. Many local stores are advertising BOGOs (buy one get one) so capitalize on these items as they are on sale.
  3. Menu planning should be a weekly task to save time and money at the grocery store. As you plan out a weeks’ worth of meals, make a shopping list you have checked against items you have on hand. Meal planning should be centered around seasonal availability and the preferences of your family.
  4. Use storage containers that you have on hand. Glass containers like canning jars make great storage units for staples. The glass also allows you to see what is in the jars quickly. Remember to label items with stickers and in some cases you may need to put the purchased date.

Whatever you decide to toss in your shopping cart, you can rest happy knowing you won’t ever again have to call spaghetti with butter dinner — unless that’s exactly what you’re in the mood for.

This Healthy Eating Food Storage Guide can assist you

Pantry items are considered dry goods or staples, things you always have on hand. Ideally, they will keep for a long time in storage, or are fresh, perishable foods regularly used up before they spoil. The idea is to subvert the need to go grocery shopping every time you cook — a major hurdle when getting food on the table.

You don’t have to buy everything at once; just buy what you think you’ll eat fairly often, and in small quantities so foods stay fresh. Build up your pantry gradually. Of course, not all ingredients work as pantry staples — fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods are perishable.

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Cilantro – Great for Cool Season Gardening

Cilantro – Great for Cool Season Gardening

Cilantro ready for harvest. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a short-lived annual herb with bright green, feathery, flat leaves that look very similar to flat-leaved parsley. Leaves can be harvested at will after they grow to a mature size and then continuously as needed. The flavor of cilantro compliments many Latin American, Indian and Asian dishes and is a great addition to salads. The ripe seeds are known as coriander and used as a spice.

Maybe some of you have grown cilantro, harvested a time or two and then watched in horror as it quickly flowered, went to seed and died. Me, too. This scenario most likely happened in the warm summer months. Hot weather and long days stimulate this annual herb to quickly complete its life cycle. When temperatures increase, it causes plants to bolt which is a sudden switch to producing flowers and seeds, often on tall stalks. After cilantro bolts, the leaves become smaller and less palatable.

Cilantro bolting and blooming. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

The solution is to grow cilantro in the fall and winter. The cooler weather encourages more leafy growth, so you can harvest the leaves for a longer period of time. The warmer weather in the spring will bring flowers, and then seeds to start next autumn’s planting. Collect the seeds and store for planting the following season.

Start cilantro in your garden from seed or transplants. A benefit of growing from seed is that a few seeds can be sown every two weeks to extend your harvest season. Like most herbs, cilantro likes rich, well-drained soils, regular moisture and full or part sun. If the weather is getting warmer, full sun in the morning with some afternoon shade will help keep the herb cooler and less likely to bolt.

For more information:

Herbs in the Florida Garden

Seeding the Garden



Author: Mary Salinas –

Residential Horticulture Extension Agent for Santa Rosa County

Gardening in the Panhandle

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Name That Holiday Cactus

Name That Holiday Cactus

University of Minnesota Extension
Julie Weisenhorn

Is your grandmother’s pass along Christmas cactus blooming really early? Do the leaf segments have “teeth” along the edges?  Are the “stringy things” sticking out of the flowers yellow in color?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but that is not a Christmas cactus, (Schlumbergera bridgesii).  It is a Thanksgiving cactus, (Schlumbergera truncata). You can tell the Thanksgiving cactus apart from the Christmas cactus by the shape of the leaves and flower anthers.  The leaves, botanically referred to as phylloclades, are serrated on the Thanksgiving cactus. Additionally, the pollen-bearing anthers in Thanksgiving cactus flowers are yellow. Christmas cactus have smooth-edged leaves and pinkish-purple anthers.

Both of these species are native to the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, where they are found growing in trees or on rocks. Therefore, the preferred potting media for Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti should contain about 40% perlite to ensure good drainage and aeration.


To care for your Thanksgiving cactus, allow the soil to dry out when it is not blooming. As flower buds develop, the soil should be moist to the touch.  However, overwatering can kill the plant.  Additionally, provide plenty of indirect light and temperatures of 60-65 degrees F.

Want to get last year’s plant to bloom again? Beginning in mid-September, it will need 12-14 hours of total darkness along with cool (60-65 degrees F) nighttime temperatures for 3-4 weeks.  To achieve the light control the cactus can be placed in a closet or covered with a large brown paper bag overnight.  Once buds start to form, fertilizer can be applied to encourage growth and blooms.  However, flower buds will fall off with any significant changes in temperature (below 50 degrees F), light or watering.

Now, if your “Christmas cactus” doesn’t set flowers until spring, it is probably an Easter cactus, a totally different species (Rhipsalidopsis gaetner).  The leaf margins of Easter cactus have small bristles and are more three-dimensional with a thick ridge on one side.  Additionally, the flower are more star-shaped than the other two cacti.  All three cacti species have flowers that come in a range of colors including variations of red, pink, peach, purple, orange or white.


Author: Sheila Dunning –

Gardening in the Panhandle

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Lessons Learned from Farmers: Fire Ant Control

Lessons Learned from Farmers: Fire Ant Control

Take lessons from a farmer to control fire ants in your garden. Photo by Molly Jameson.

As I near the three-year mark of being an Extension Agent, I think about how fortunate I am to have a career that not only encourages me to meet all our local farmers, but also to learn from them and share their knowledge with the community.

A few months ago, I visited Blake Canter of Owen River Farm. Blake gave me the grand tour of his small mixed vegetable plot, which is in far east Tallahassee.

One thing that I remember most about my visit with Blake was what has worked for him in controlling the notorious red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). I have heard of many different ways to control these non-native invaders, each with its drawbacks, and, it seems, anecdotally limited success.

For instance, spinosad, a nervous system toxin, has been known to be effective on fire ant populations and is considered safe to use in vegetable gardens. But in practice, I have heard mixed reviews. In my home garden, I either douse the mounds with boiling water (be careful!) or leave my garden hose in the hot sun and scorch them while the water is still hot. But often, I signal defeat, letting them take captive of two corners of my raised beds.

Blake at Owen River Farm makes his fire ant control mixture by combining commercial grade d-Limonene and a hefty squirt of eco-friendly dish soap into five gallons of water. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Blake’s technique on Owen River Farm is using commercial grade d-Limonene, which is a distilled orange oil nerve toxin. Blake mixes one-third cup of d-Limonene with a hefty squirt of eco-friendly dish soap in a five-gallon bucket of water. He then uses this mixture as a drench for fire ant mounds – which he figures is about as effective as boiling water – but much safer and easier to handle (be sure to follow the label carefully when using any product).

Blake goes out early in the morning (when fire ants move slower and queens are usually higher in their nests) and pours the mixture onto the mounds in a spiral formation, from outside in, to minimize escape. He tries to collapse the mound as much as possible, while pouring slowly so it penetrates deeply, with minimal runoff.

Depending on colony size, Blake uses about half the bucket, or more, on just one mound. He warns that he has lost a cucumber plant that was about a foot away to this method, but he knows the ants will often do even more damage, if not sting and bite (they do both!) him hundreds of times, as he works in his vegetable beds.

Blake likes this method because, “I can specifically target the fire ants, and after doing its job, the all-natural orange oil quickly becomes inert. When I used organic ant bait I found that the native ants took up the poison, often times faster than the fire ants. This was particularly bad because native ants are the number one competition for fire ants.”

Blake also points out, “Make sure anyone you recommend this to can identify the difference between fire ant mounds with no center opening to the mound, and native ant mounds, where there is usually an entrance hole in the center of the mound.”

The hardest part, Blake says, is finding the queens. For instance, he says ants often make auxiliary mounds at the base of okra plants, but this is not where the queen resides. The queen will often be in a central mound many yards away from where her workers are foraging. And, unfortunately, these worker ants love easily habitable soft soil, just like in our raised bed vegetable gardens.

Fire ants in a petri dish. Photo by UF/IFAS.

Despite these challenges, last fall Blake drenched colonies whenever he found a mound around his farm (sometimes daily), and after a few weeks he noticed a drastic reduction in fire ant populations. And happily, an increased population of harmless (and even helpful!) native black ants. His brassica (think kale, collards, broccoli, cabbages) transplants were no longer getting girdled by vicious fire ants and he was no longer ending up with dozens of ant bites every time he worked in his beds!

Blake does warn that you must stay vigilant, especially in the summer and fall and after rain events, when the ants become busy building new colonies.

Lastly, Blake also uses his orange oil mixture as a spray for contact killing ants and other garden pests. However, just as with all horticultural oils and soaps (often made from plant oils, animal fats, or petroleum), care must be taken not to burn the foliage of your crops. Blake will sometimes dilute his mixture for this purpose. But just remember, to really stop an ant infestation, you must take down the queen!

For more information on least-toxic garden pest control strategies, read the UF/IFAS EDIS publication “Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida” available at:


Author: Molly Jameson –

Gardening in the Panhandle

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Be on the Lookout for Rose Crown Gall

Be on the Lookout for Rose Crown Gall

Crown gall symptoms on roses caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens (Rhizobium radiobacter) – Photo credits: Kamil Duman

A plant with a mature gall that is potentially releasing the crown gall bacterium into the potting media. Photo credits: Susannah Wright

For gardeners, rose enthusiasts and rosarians, each of the many rose diseases is as important as the others. But we can say for sure Crown Gall is one of the most unsightly of the many rose diseases that can been seen currently.

The disease got this name from the large tumor-like swellings (galls) that typically occur at the crown of the plant, just above the soil level. The cause of crown gall disease is a bacterium that resides in the soil, Agrobacterium tumefaciens (updated scientific name Rhizobium radiobacter).


Galls or overgrowth (1/4 inch to several inches in diameter) of host plant tissue typically form at the soil line but also can form on branches or roots. Galls are initially white, spherical, and soft but darken with age as outer cells die. It can either be almost entirely on the surface of the plant and easily detached or can be almost indistinguishable from normal plant tissue except for its greatly enlarged appearance.

The bacterium that causes Crown Gall disease survives and persists in the soil for up to 3 years. It can invade recent wounds on the branches or roots. Swelling can be seen as early as 14 days following entry of the bacterium into the plant. The tissue near the gall can be crushed due to rapid cell enlargement. If vascular tissue is crushed, wilting can result from the restricted water movement.


Early stage symptom of Crown Gall on roses can be noticed as the small white galls. Photo credits: Susannah Wright

The galls can enlarge to a quarter size in a short period of time from the initial small galls. Photo credits: Mathews Paret


Agrobacterium uses its genes as a weapon to attack plants. It enters the plant mostly from the soil through wounds on the roots or lower stem or from the branches during plant pruning. Symptoms are caused by the insertion of a small segment of DNA (known as the T-DNA), from a plasmid, into the host plant cell, which is incorporated into the plant genome. When the plasmid links up with the plants own DNA, the altered plant cells start dividing rapidly and uncontrollably, and the root or stem develops a tumor-like swelling.

Galls can range from pea size to softball size. Tiny cracks from freezing temperatures or wound sites can be the site of gall formation. Once the wound compounds are generated, the bacteria detach from the xylem cell walls and are carried upward with water during evapotranspiration to the wound site where they initiate galls. One of the common ways of the spread of the disease is by pruning infected plants and moving the bacterium accidentally while pruning nearby healthy plants.

The crown gall bacterium is a soil pathogen, which means main inoculum source is soil. The bacterium can overwinter in infested soils, where it can live as a saprophyte for several years. The bacterium can easily during field preparation, pruning and irrigation. Insects, nematodes and grafting materials, can also transfer the bacterium.

The galls will turn dark in color as they age. Photo credits: Kamil Duman



  • Plant only disease-free roses. Check very carefully before you buy plants for any kind of galls in the crown or branches. Use good sanitation practices in handling roses.
  • Plant in clean soil. Avoid areas with a history of crown gall infestation.
  • Avoid fields with heavy infestations of root-attacking insects and nematodes.
  • Select well-drained soil and irrigate from clean water sources.
  • Keep grafts and buds well above the soil line.
  • Destroy diseased plants as soon as you notice them to avoid cross-contaminating other plants, or pruning equipment. Also, do not keep infected plants with healthy plants, as the likelihood of accidental transmission through pruning is high.
  • Avoid mechanical injury to plants from tillage and hoeing. Provide winter protection so that the bark does not crack.
  • Disinfect pruning tools between plants. disinfect budding/grafting tools before and after use. Bleach (10%; equivalent to 0.6% sodium hypochlorite), or quaternary ammonium-based sanitizer are effective as disinfectants. Make sure to prepare fresh stock routinely.
  • If crown gall plants are noted, please let your local county extension agent know about it and they will be able to contact us for additional site-specific management plans if needed.

Gall formation at pruning sites indicating contamination of the plant during pruning. Photo credits: Kamil Duman



Authors: Kamil Duman, Susannah Wright, Fanny Iriarte, Barron Riddle, Gary Knox and Mathews Paret, University of Florida – NFREC, Quincy, FL




Author: Gary Knox –

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

Gardening in the Panhandle

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Caterpillars That Sting are in Northwest Florida

Caterpillars That Sting are in Northwest Florida

Saddleback Caterpillar. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF / IFAS

Did you know we have caterpillars that sting here in Northwest Florida? Well, we do and you’d be wise to learn about them and how to recognize them.

These caterpillars do not sting in the same way that a wasp or bee might sting. They do not have “stingers.” But they do have spines, also called nettling hairs, which are connected to poison glands that can inflict a painful reaction if touched.

The four nettling caterpillars that you are more likely to encounter in Florida are the hag caterpillar, Io moth caterpillar, puss caterpillar and saddleback caterpillar. Those that you are less likely to come in contact with include the buck moth caterpillar, flannel moth caterpillar, spiny oak-slug caterpillar and tussock moth caterpillar.

The “sting” is unintentional, not deliberate. When brushed against or touched, the toxin-bearing spines break off, releasing toxins. In some cases, broken spines pierce the skin. In other cases, toxins leak out onto the surface of the skin.

A University of Florida-IFAS Extension publication about these caterpillars states, “Some people experience severe reactions to the poison released by the spines and require medical attention. Others experience only an itching or burning sensation.”

The kind of reaction can depend on the type of caterpillar, extent of contact and susceptibility of individual. Fortunately, most of these caterpillars spend most of their time high up in trees away from us. But they can blow out of the trees during windy weather or come down still attached to branches and limbs that fall.

The saddleback caterpillar is more likely to be encountered because it feeds on many of our common landscape plants such as hibiscus and palms. But it is also known to feed on azaleas, fruit trees and even canna lilies. The saddleback caterpillar is striking in appearance with what looks like a bright green “blanket” draped over its back and a brown saddle-shaped oval area in the center of the blanket. Its spines are colorful, sharp and protrude from the front, back and sides of the caterpillar. It is stout and 1 to 1.5 inches long.

I’ve received questions about the puss caterpillar recently from people who have encountered it. This caterpillar is stout-bodied, almost 1 inch long and completely covered with gray to brown soft hairs. They seem to prefer leaves of oaks and citrus but they will feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs,

Because of their bright colors and interesting appearance, children may be tempted to touch or pick up some of these stinging caterpillars.

More information on these caterpillars is available at these websites:


Author: Larry Williams –

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

Gardening in the Panhandle

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