The Grass is Getting “Hungry”

Sheila Dunning

Commercial Horticulture Agent II

Northwest Florida’s weather patterns can present challenges to maintaining a health lawn. Heavy rains promote fast growth and relentless sunshine causes lawns to fade.  In the last 200 days we have received at least 68 days of rain.  While the rest of Florida was experiencing record drought earlier this year, the Panhandle was experiencing torrential downpours.  With every drop of rain your spring fertilizer is being metabolized by the lawn, reducing how many nutrients remain in the soil.  Even the best slow-release fertilizer will only last 3-4 months.  The message is: “It’s time for more fertilizer.”

A healthy lawn is an important component of the urban landscape. Not only do lawns increase the value of a property, they also reduce soil erosion, filter stormwater runoff, cool the air, and reduce glare and noise.  A healthy lawn effectively filters and traps sediment and pollutants that could otherwise contaminate surface waters and groundwater.  Lawns require nutrients throughout the growing season to stay healthy.  In Northwest Florida the growing season is typically April to October.

Proper fertilization consists of selecting the right type of fertilizer and applying it at the right time and in the right amount for maximum plant uptake. The type of fertilizer should be based on a soil test, available through UF/IFAS Extension. The timing of application and amount of fertilizer is dependent on the research-based recommendations for the grass species and the fertilizer analysis of the product being used.

Select only a fertilizer that states that the product is for use on residential turf. Do not use a fertilizer meant for flower or vegetable gardens on lawns. By Florida Administrative Code, Rule 5E-1.003, the Urban Turf Rule requires that the fertilizers being applied to residential lawns are labeled for the site and the application rates be followed.  Typically, these products will contain both slow-release nitrogen and low or no phosphorus.  Slow-release nitrogen will provide a longer-lasting response from the grass and reduces the potential for burning. For more information on the Urban Turf Rule go to:

With frequent rain the soil is also losing iron. Keep in mind that the green fading to yellow appearance in your lawn may be an iron deficiency.  Before applying your summer fertilizer put out a liquid chelated iron.  It will improve the health of the lawn while you are trying to find a dry day to fertilize.

While it is necessary to water in fertilizer with ¼” of water to reduce burn potential and volatilization, never apply fertilizer when heavy rain is expected.  The rainfall over ¼” can encourage runoff and/or leaching of that fertilizer, which can be costly and environmentally harmful.


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Check out the latest edition of The Compost Pile

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2017 Beekeeping in the Panhandle Summer Series

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Learn more about Florida’s artificial reefs

85b81b43-ae36-4a10-9a9b-fc8c46e3b8e9Check out the connection between expired military equipment and artificial reefs!

Photo credit: Bernard Brzezinski


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White spots on magnolia leaves & sandspur control in lawn

Q. My magnolia tree leaves have small white spots on them. I can scrape them off with my fingernail. What is this and will it damage my tree?

A. More than likely this is a scale insect. It’s probably False Oleander Scale, which is common on magnolias. If the tree is otherwise healthy, the scale will not cause permanent harm. But if the tree has been weakened by other factors such as construction damage (adding or removing soil around the roots, paving over the roots, soil compaction, etc.), storm damage or if the tree has been damaged from weed and feed applications in nearby lawn areas, then the scale could be the “last straw” for this tree. You’ll find this scale on native magnolia trees out in the wild. You can spray the infested leaves with one of the horticultural oil sprays but good coverage of infested leaves is important. Make sure it is summer oil, not dormant oil. If the tree is too large to spray, you may get some control with a systemic insecticide containing imidacloprid. If the tree is otherwise healthy, the scale should not be a problem for the tree. For more information on this scale, visit

Q. I have a large infestation of sandspurs. Is there anything that I can use in my lawn to get rid of this weed?

A. Sandspur or sandbur is a warm season annual grass. As such, it comes up from seed during spring. In the seedling stage it blends in with the lawn grass. Later in spring and summer, it produces the stickers (burs/spurs), which contain seed. The parent plants will die as a result of the first killing frost or freeze. The seed remain dormant throughout winter and germinate the following spring to start the cycle all over again. Because sandbur is a true grass, there are few to no effective and safe postemergence choices for controlling this weed in a lawn. So, the best option is to apply a preemergence herbicide for lawns during February to early March. This provides a very narrow window to achieve control. Timing is extremely important when using a preemergence herbicide. You may also need to apply a second application six to nine weeks after the initial application to achieve season-long control based on directions on the product’s label. Always follow the label directions and precautions when using any pesticide, including herbicides. For more information on growing a Florida lawn, including weed control, visit

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, July 19, 2017

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Citizen Science: A Growing Hobby

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

Many people are fascinated by my job as a marine scientist. I often hear wishful comments of “I wish I had chosen an exciting career like that.” I’m here to tell you it’s not too late. A phenomenon called citizen science is gaining in popularity, particularly in our coastal communities.

Citizen science is public participation in scientific research by volunteers or amateur scientists. It often involves monitoring or research activities capable of being accomplished by nonprofessional scientists. These programs are designed to engage community members as collaborators throughout the research process including identifying research topics, monitoring and data collection, or information dissemination. Citizen science is a fun and interesting way for people to understand and learn about what is taking place in their own neighborhoods.

Citizen scientists report joining research projects for a variety of reasons. Some want to make a difference and contribute to society. Others love science, are curious about their communities and want to ensure that local research projects include a laypersons perspective.   Citizen science projects can build trust, as scientists recognize the value of public outreach, while participants see how science can advance their understanding of the world they live in.

The University of Florida (UF) has a long history of recruiting and utilizing citizen sciences in a host of research projects. Researchers have long relied on citizen scientists to report the spread of the invasive Cuban Treefrog by documenting and submitting frog sightings. The first Cuban Treefrog in Okaloosa County was caught and reported by a local citizen scientist. Participating can be as simple as taking photos of the frogs (

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and the University of Florida Lake Watch Program have partnered for years with local citizens to monitor over 130 sampling sites located within the Choctawhatchee Bay, Choctawhatchee River, all the coastal dune lakes in Walton County, and even in the Gulf of Mexico, just off shore in Okaloosa and Walton County ( They frequently recruit citizen scientists for many of their other local research projects including building living shorelines and a new oyster gardening initiative.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) uses citizen science as a smart, cost-effective strategy to enhance the FWC’s ability to conserve Florida’s diversity of fish and wildlife species and habitats ( The FWC is currently seeking volunteers and college students to assist with the 2017 Seagrass Integrated Monitoring and Mapping program in Franklin County ( This is a statewide collaborative effort which facilitates the collection and publication of monitoring and mapping data for Florida seagrasses in order to assess the status and trends of this vital ecosystem. This would be a great opportunity for those students wanting to gain some field experiences to add to their resume.

If being a citizen scientist sounds like a fun activity for you or your family, take a look at the links provided in this article, or contact Laura Tiu, UF/IFAS – Okaloosa County Extension Office, for additional suggestions.

UF/IFAS: An Equal Opportunity Institution.

Photo Caption:  Master Naturalist/Citizen Scientist, Diana Moore, assists with outreach at a local event.  Photo credit: Laura Tiu
Walton County Outdoors II 2016
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Plant propagation lecture and mini plant sale

Many of our favorite woody shrubs and herbaceous plants can be started from cuttings.

Here is an easy method that can be used to root dozens of plants at home. You’ll need the following supplies:

  • Sharp hand pruners.
  • Clean plastic nursery pots (1, 2 or 3 gallon size) with drain holes.
  • Well-drained sterile media such as perlite, vermiculite or fine pine bark.
  • A sheet of clear plastic or large, clear plastic bags.
  • Root promoter such as Rootone, Hormodin or Dip-N-Grow.

Recycled pots should be washed and rinsed. Fill each pot half full with well-drained potting mix. Avoid fine textured mixtures that look like soil – they won’t work. Water well to thoroughly wet the medium.

Take cuttings in early morning. Using sharp pruners remove 4 to 5 inch long pieces of terminal shoots from current season’s growth. Immediately place them in a plastic bag or a cooler if temperatures are high.

Once cuttings have been collected, prepare to stick them without delay. In a cool, shaded area recut the base of each cutting. Make a slanted cut just below a joint or node. Dip the cut end in a root promoter and stick it in the medium just deep enough to make it stand up without support. Cuttings can be spaced as close as 2 inches apart. A six-inch nursery pot will easily root a dozen cuttings.

Once pot is filled with desired number of cuttings, water again to help settle medium around cutting bases.

Stretch a clear plastic sheet tightly over the top of each pot and secure it with a large rubber band or string. Another option is to place the entire pot in a large, clear plastic bag and seal it. In either case, the plastic should not touch the cuttings.

Place this completed “propagation unit” in a bright area but in a place that never receives direct sun. Check each week to make sure that condensation is forming inside the plastic. As long as beads of moisture are seen, do not disturb. If the amount of condensation decreases, remove the top, water again, allow excess water to drain and replace the cover.

To learn more about plant propagation, you may attend a lecture on Plant Propagation by Sheila Dunning, UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Agent for Okaloosa County. Techniques required to be successful with a variety of plant propagation methods including seeds, divisions, cuttings and grafting will be shared.

A mini plant sale for attendees will follow the lecture featuring flowering nectar plants for butterflies and hummingbirds and larval host plants for butterflies.

The program will be held Wednesday, July 19 from 10 -11 a.m. at the Okaloosa Extension Annex, 127 Hollywood Blvd. N.W. in Fort Walton Beach. There is no cost to attend but space is limited so registration is required by calling (850) 689-5850.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, July 12, 2017


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