Tax Preparation Assistance

by Jill Breslawski, UF/IFAS Extension Agent
Not to rush through the holidays but tax season is quickly approaching. Each year, low to moderate income Okaloosa County residents pay high fees to have their taxes prepared, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars. Preparing your own taxes can be a very confusing process. The United Way of Okaloosa and Walton Counties and the UF/IFAS Okaloosa Extension Services are partnering up this year to help relieve some of that confusion.

This year the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program will be offered at the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview and Fort Walton Beach, and also the Walton County Extension office in DeFuniak Springs. Qualifying individuals and families are able to set an appointment to have their taxes prepared for absolutely no charge beginning in January 25th.

To prepare for this opportunity the United Way and The Extension office is looking for individuals who would like to become certified tax volunteers.  A free tax preparation class will be offered to all volunteers. If you are a person willing to give a minimum of two hours per week to saving people in your community money please contact: Jill Breslawski, Family and Consumer Science Agent, at the Okaloosa County Extension office at 850-689-5850, or or


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Panhandle Bee College

2018 Panhandle Bee College
Registration is open!

University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab hosts:

2018 Panhandle Bee College
Blountstown, FL
March 23 & 24, 2018

Panhandle Bee College is a two-day event offering training for beekeepers of all experience levels, gardeners, naturalist, county agents, and anyone with an interest in bees.

Early Bird discount tickets are on sale now

To register and for more information click here!

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The Poinsettia

by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Thousands of poinsettias will be purchased and displayed in homes or offices during this Christmas Season. This plant’s bright red petal-like leaves and dark green foliage is especially appreciated this time of year.

Our present day poinsettia plant was no more than a weed growing wild in Mexico when it was discovered by our first ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett who brought the plant to this country in the 1820’s. The plant has since borne his name. By the time Poinsett got to the plant, Mexicans had been collecting the prized flowers for years and decorating their mangers with them as symbols of the star of Bethlehem.

Today’s poinsettia looks nothing like the ones that Poinsett brought back from Mexico. The modern poinsettia comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and forms.

The true flowers are small, green and yellow and inconspicuous. The showy red parts, often called flowers are modified petal-like leaves, which botanist calls bracts. The bracts are formed below each flower.

The poinsettia buyer should do the following:

  • Select a plant that has green foliage nearly to the soil line. Old plants will usually have experienced excessive leaf drop.
  • The bracts should be large and extend over the lower green foliage. The most popular color in poinsettias is red. However, there are numerous shades of whites, pinks and color combinations.
  • Select only plants with small tight green button-like flower parts in the center of the bracts. These little buttons will eventually develop into open flowers. If the poinsettia is already producing pollen, you can be assured that a portion of its useful display life has already passed and the bracts will begin to fade.

Poinsettias are predominately greenhouse grown as pot plants for Christmas in most of the United States. But in South Florida where it is warmer they can be used as colorful landscape shrubs. Here in North Florida they may be frozen to the ground before flowering so are best used as container plants.

If the new varieties are properly watered and placed in a cool, sunny, draft free area, the bracts will remain attractive for one to two months when used as houseplants.

Poinsettias need bright light to keep them looking good but it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. Avoid dark locations. They will stay fresh longer in a cool room. If kept too hot, the leaves may suddenly drop. Night temperatures of 60-65ºF and day temperatures of 70-75ºF are ideal. Water the when the top of the soil feels dry and don’t let it sit in water constantly.

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Gardeners in Florida are lucky to have the UF/IFAS Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN). FAWN is a weather network of 42 monitoring stations across Florida from the north in Jay to the south in Homestead.

To find out more about this valuable resource click here

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This is the order you’ll make the cuts.

Pruning is an important part of keeping your trees healthy and looking their best, and using proper technique is an integral part of making this happen. An improperly done pruning job can actually harm your tree and leave it vulnerable to disease or decay.

The three-cut pruning method is a great technique to make sure your pruning cuts are clean and where you want them.


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Christmas Palm

Detail of the Christmas palm’s fruit. Photo by Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

Palms are one of those iconic Florida plants. They are great for adding tropical flare to the landscape, but if you have a small planting area, finding a palm to fit can be a challenge. Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii) is one of the few palm species that will do well in a small site.

The common name, “Christmas palm,” comes from the clusters of bright red fruits that adorn these trees in late fall and winter, giving the plants the appearance of being decorated for the holidays. Christmas palms are also sometimes referred to as Manila palms.

To find out more go to

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True Blue

Cool blue hues can help your garden become a calming and tranquil place. Of course, there aren’t many “true blue” flowering plants to be found, but we’ve come up with a few that could help you bring on the blue. Want to add this great color into your landscape? Read more at


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