Do your homework before planting fruit trees

Not every fruit tree will grow and reliably produce fruit in North Florida.

Temperature is the most important factor determining where certain fruits can be grown. It’s the reason why apples and blueberries do not do well in South Florida. It’s also the reason why people living in the northern part of the state find it difficult to grow tropical fruits such as papaya or mangoes.

Deciduous fruits, such as apple, peach and plum, require colder winter weather when these trees are bare of leaves and are in a state of dormancy in order to produce fruit. While most of the more tropical, evergreen fruits such as citrus require milder temperatures in order to do well and produce.

You can’t always rely on the folks selling the fruit plants to get it right in providing the best match for our weather.

There are a handful of apple cultivars from which to choose that will produce fruit with our milder winters. Florida is not known as an apple growing region of the United States. There are a few more options when it comes to peach and plum cultivars that will produce with our relatively warm winters.

The same colder winter weather of North Florida that is beneficial for the growth and production of deciduous fruits can injure the more cold sensitive tropical fruits, including most citrus types.

Two of the more cold-hardy types of citrus that will tolerate and survive our average winters are Kumquat and Satsuma. It is interesting that the entire citrus industry has progressively moved south in Florida due to historic freezes. Most commercial citrus production is now south of Orlando. North Florida’s colder winter temperatures are not conducive to growing most citrus species.

In order to be successful with fruit production in North Florida, fruit enthusiasts need to do their homework and ask a lot of questions before selecting and planting the first plant. Which varieties grow well here? How much care is needed to grow this type of fruit? Do I have time to devote to pruning, spraying, fertilizing and watering?

As part of doing your homework, you may want to attend a presentation by Okaloosa County Master Gardener Margaret Stewart titled Growing Fruit in Okaloosa County on Wednesday, June 21. This hour long lecture begins at 10 a.m. at the Gerald R. Edmonson Extension Building located at 3098 Airport Road in Crestview.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited so registration is required. Please call the UF/IFAS Okaloosa County Extension Office at (850) 689-5850 to register.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, June 14, 2017
The Foundation for The Gator Nation


An Equal Opportunity Institution

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2017 Turfgrass Expo & Field Day

There is something for the professional, Master Gardener and homeowner at the 23th Annual Turfgrass Expo & Field Day. You’ll see and learn the newest in the areas of lawn grass varieties, weed control and many other topics related to selecting, establishing and maintaining a Florida lawn.

This University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) event will take place on Wednesday, June 21 at the West Florida Research and Education Center (WFREC) in the north part of Santa Rosa County.

The turfgrass research facility is one of the largest in the Southeast and is part of the larger WFREC. The turfgrass research part of the center contains hundreds of turfgrass varieties, which are intentionally planted in blocks for research purposes. You’ll see the newest centipede, St. Augustine, zoysia, bermuda, bahia and other grass varieties. UF/IFAS Researchers will be onsite during the field day to share their research on weed control, lawn insects, new lawn grasses and more.

This year’s expo is offering a track the golf and athletic field professional and a track for the landscape professional. In addition, the homeowner lawn enthusiast will find opportunities to learn. Topics include new bermudagrass cultivars, thatch management in the landscape with equipment demo, ground pearls (difficult lawn scale insect), turfgrass response to herbicides, understanding pesticides and pesticide safety and understanding the fertilizer label.

The Turfgrass Expo & Field Day begins with registration at 7:45 a.m. followed by research tours beginning at 9 a.m. and a catered lunch at noon. After lunch, they will have vendor updates and equipment demonstrations. Beginning at 1:15 p.m., educational workshops will be provided. The event concludes at 3 p.m. with door prizes. Attending the afternoon workshops is optional.

This popular expo and field day attracts hundreds of attendees and includes research plot tours, workshops, equipment demonstrations, continuing education pesticide license holders, lunch, door prizes, vendors and exhibits.

Registration fee for Master Gardeners and homeowners is $20 and $50 for the professional track. Onsite registration is $60. Register online at Contact Events Coordinator, Robin Vickers, at (850) 983-7134 for more information.

The WFREC is located in the beautiful farming area of Northern Santa Rosa County on Highway 182 between Allen Town and Jay at 4253 Experiment Road in Jay, Florida. This event is outdoors so bring your sunscreen and insect repellent.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, June 8, 2017


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ground Pearls, the peril of local lawns

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

One such reason is ground pearls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information on ground pearls is available at the following UF/IFAS Extension web page.

Plant Clinic

The June plant clinic will be held Friday, June 9 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Fort Walton Beach at the Okaloosa County Extension building, 127 W. Hollywood Blvd.

To participate, bring a fresh sample of the weed, plant, insect, etc., that you’d like diagnosed to the clinic. You also may bring a sample of soil for pH testing.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, May 31, 2017


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pitcher Plants of the Panhandle

By: Laura Tiu, UF/IFAS Sea Grant Marine Science Extension Agent

The mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP), taught through your local Extension office, is to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens The Program whets the appetite of students for information on local flora and fauna and often leads to additional research outside of the class. In spring 2017, the Freshwater Systems Module was taught in Okaloosa and Walton counties in the Florida Panhandle.   One student mentioned that she had a large patch of yellow trumpet-leaf pitcher plants growing on her farm, and as many in the class were interested in seeing pitcher plants in “bloom” in the wetland areas that they were studying, and an impromptu field trip was organized.

Florida is home to six species of pitcher plants (Family: Sarraceniaceae). Five can be found in Okaloosa and Walton counties in the Florida Panhandle: Yellow trumpet, Whitetop, Parrot, Gulf Purple, and Gulf Coast Redflower. Pitcher plants are native perennials that have adapted to living in a habitat that is nitrogen poor, acidic and at least seasonally saturated. These plants are rare and definitely worth seeking out to get a good look.

Pitcher plants have evolved with several adaptations to survive in their sometimes harsh habitats. They are carnivorous and trap insects in order to compensate for the nitrogen limiting soils where they live. The plants have modified hollow leaves that form tubes. The tubes are open at the top and often completely or partially covered by a specialized flap or hood, helping to reduce the amount of rain entering the tube. The brightly colored hoods and tubes help attract prey, and often have a strong odor as well. The tubes are slick on the inside, with downward facing hairs, resulting in curious insects sliding to the bottom of the leaf where a small pool of water traps and drowns them. As the insect decomposes, the resulting nitrogen becomes available to the plant. You will often see ants, flies, wasps and bees caught in the pitcher traps.

The yellow trumpet-leaf pitcher plant is one of the largest species with a yellowish-green tube and hood streaked with dark maroon splotches. The flowers have a musty smell. In Florida, this species is found in the northwest region from Leon County, west to Escambia County. Often, multiple species of pitcher plants can be found growing in the same area.

Protection of the pitcher plants and their habitats is important due to increasing loss of their unique habitats. Baseline surveys and continuing monitoring can help detect changes in pitcher plant populations. Restoration efforts often include frequent prescribed burning in order to reduce surrounding hardwood species. Restoration of local hydrology may also help maintain and grow populations. Other threats include feral hogs and humans, as they both have negative impacts on pitcher plant populations. It is also important for the general public to be educated about these unique plants. Collecting pitcher plants in the wild is prohibited by law, however plants can be purchased from reputable retailers. Following these recommendations will help to conserve these remarkable plants and their habitats.

If you are interested in learning more about, or perhaps participating in the Florida Master Naturalist Program, please see more information here,, or contact your local Extension office.

The Foundation for the Gator Nation, An Equal Opportunity Institution.

Photos by Eric Tiu.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Multiple locations to get lawn, landscape and garden help

The University of Florida has offices in all 67 Florida Counties. These Extension offices are part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and they offer you the “front door” to UF experts.

UF/IFAS Extension in Okaloosa County now offers assistance to citizens with lawn, landscape and garden questions at three locations.

UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Okaloosa County staff the Extension Annex in Fort Walton Beach every Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to help local residents with their lawn, landscape and garden questions. The Extension Annex is located at 127 West Hollywood Boulevard.

Thanks to the assistance of Niceville’s City Manager, Lannie Corbin, Master Gardener volunteers have recently started staffing a building in Niceville to provide help to local residents with their lawn, landscape and garden questions. Master Gardeners staff the Niceville Youth Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday. The Youth Center is located at 200 Campbell Drive.

The UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County is located at the Gerald R. Edmondson Extension Building, 3098 Airport Road in Crestview. Our office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday.

Note: These locations may not be open on holidays.

Each of these three locations can help you with questions related to your lawn, landscape and garden as well as testing the pH of your soil. Knowing the soil pH can help you do a better job in selecting appropriate plants and provide guidance on what is needed to adjust the soil pH.

In addition to the above, UF/IFAS Extension can help in the following areas.

Agriculture: With an annual statewide impact of well over $100 billion, agriculture is vital to Florida. We provide relevant and timely resources to food producers and others who need information about Florida agriculture.

Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS): Through FCS, we provide information about health nutrition, money management, food, home concerns, relationships and many other topics. Our resources can help you whether you are retired, a first-time parent, a teen or someone in between.

Horticulture: Florida presents unique challenges for growing lawns, landscapes and gardens. So we offer research-based information and advice to assist both the home gardener and the professional horticulture industry.

Natural Resources and Coastal Management: We provide information in the areas of wildlife and forestry management, aquaculture, seafood safety and ecotourism.

4-H: 4-H is the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension System of land-grant universities. Through 4-H, young people from elementary school through high school engage in hands-on learning activities in the areas of agriculture, science, citizenship, leadership and healthy living.

Visit to learn more about UF/IFAS Extension.

mg logo small

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, May 18, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Container gardening lecture & mini plant sale

A little imagination, a decorative container and appropriate plants can turn a bare spot into a splash of color.

Consider using a container of annuals to add color to a backyard deck or a paved entrance way. Or what about that area under the tree where grass doesn’t want to grow and where it would be difficult to till without damaging the tree’s roots and the tiller? How about the dry spot where there is no irrigation but where it would be more practical to occasionally hand water a well-placed container of colorful caladiums?

A wide variety of flowering annuals work well in containers. But be sure to select plants based on the exposure. Some annuals quickly bake from full sun exposure and others become leggy and bloom poorly in a shady location.

Impatiens and begonias do well in shaded places and remain in flower almost continuously. Caladiums also do well in containers in shady areas. They don’t bloom but they have colorful leaves.

It’s more difficult to grow container plants in full sun but there are some annuals to consider for sunny spots. Periwinkle and all types of portulaca are heat tolerant and do well in full sun.

There are many other annuals that can be successfully grown in containers. You might like to try ageratum or salvia. In addition to annual salvia, there are numerous perennial types to try. And there are sun-tolerant begonia and sun coleus varieties for full-sun places.

To learn more, you may wish to attend an upcoming seminar titled Creating Container Gardens using Flowers and Foliage being held at the Okaloosa County Extension Annex from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 17. The Extension Annex is located at 127 Hollywood Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach.

Okaloosa County Master Gardener, Lee Vanderpool, will demonstrate how to combine a variety of plants to create beautiful container gardens. Emphasis will be on using plants with similar growing requirements but with varying height, texture, color and form. This seminar will feature many plants well-suited for growing in containers and a nice selection of plants will be available for purchase after the program. The mini plant sale is only for those attending the lecture.

There is no cost to attend this seminar but space is limited so registration is required. Please call the UF/IFAS Okaloosa County Extension Office at (850) 689-5850 to register.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, May 10, 2017
The Foundation for The Gator Nation
An Equal Opportunity Institution


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Embryology 101

Veronica Graham

4-H has been very busy for the last couple of months and one of the programs responsible for this increase in activity is Embryology. Embryology is the study of developmental cycles. The biological development in particular 4-H age children study is that of chickens. Our 4-H Embryology Program is school enrichment based meaning it focuses on in-classroom study. Each teacher participating in the program receives a complete equipment kit which includes curriculum and a training seminar with a 4-H professional to kick off the program. Fertilized eggs are then placed in the incubator and the program cycle begins. The children in each classroom spend the next two weeks candling the eggs and observing the changes each chick goes through in preparation to enter the world. The final week, also known as hatch week, is an eventful time. The teachers prepare the incubators and brooders for the coming chicks and the children are able to take responsibility in caring for the newborns through feeding and watering cycles. On many occasions the students are able to hold and interact with the chicks as well. There are so many advantages to this program. Not only do the students learn a biology lesson at a young age, they also learn responsibility and compassion. They also are able to experience a little piece of where their food they eat comes from. Eggs from the store have very little meaning and many times are misunderstood until a child watches a chick come from the same looking egg. Everything about what that egg is truly for comes in to focus. It is an amazing experience for both the children and the teachers to witness. If you are a teacher or a principal in an elementary school in Okaloosa County and are interested in implementing this University of Florida funded program in to your school next spring, please contact Veronica Graham at the Okaloosa County Extension Office at 850-689-5850 or

The Foundation for the Gator Nation, An Equal Opportunity Institution.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment