Pruning Palms. Winged Ants or Termites? Centipedegrass

Rebecca Jordi, Horticultural Agent with Nassau County, Florida Extension, answers gardening questions. LANDSCAPE MATTERS CLASS: September 15. Learn about seasonal vegetable gardening.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A University of Florida faculty member and Nassau County Extension Horticultural Agent, Rebecca Jordi addresses some of the questions she receives about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida.

___GARDEN TALK Q & A____

Winged Termite Vs. Winged Ant, University of Florida photo
Winged Termite (left), and Winged Ant. Photo University of Florida

QUESTION: My friend paid someone to prune her palms and they look like they have a Mohawk haircut. The landscaper called it a “hurricane cut” but it does not look correct to me.  What is the proper way to prune a palm?  KS

JORDI: Hurricane season is the perfect time of year to discuss proper pruning cuts on palms.  A few years ago, when we had four hurricanes come across Florida.  Can you guess which plant withstood the high winds the best?  Much to our surprise, healthy palms came through the storms very well.

As you may imagine, palms grown in tropical and subtropical areas have been exposed to storm conditions over the years and they are built to withstand wind gusts better than some of their woody tree counterparts. In general, it is best to leave palm fronds on the palm as long as any green is still visible on the frond. If the frond needs to be removed be sure the pruner does not cut into the bud area. Remember, the fronds or leaves supply the food to the palm therefore removing fronds too early reduces the amount of nutrients available to the palm. Removing too many fronds will unnecessarily stress the palm.

The best procedure for pruning palms is to think about the palm head in relation to the numbers on a clock. Generally, it is best to never remove fronds above three or nine o’clock position. You absolutely do not want to pay someone to prune any tree or shrub improperly. Here is a publication from the University of Florida specifically regarding pruning palms.

QUESTION: I found an insect which looks like an ant with wings.  What could it be?  BS

JORDI: Actually, there are certain times when ants and termites form wings. The insects form wings to mate and form new nests. It is often difficult to determine the difference between a termite and an ant. This publication provides several pictures to assist in determining which insect you have. The most obvious difference is ants have a pinched waist whereas termites do not. Ant antennae are bent and ant wings are not the same size.  Termite antennae are straight and their wings are equal in length. The insect you described is called an ant alate.

QUESTION: I am having some difficulty keeping my centipedegrass healthy.  I have been using a common fertilizer found at any of the garden centers but a friend told me to call you because I might be over-doing it.  I fertilized in the late winter, then again in the spring and I am about to fertilize again. What should I use?  I have also used a weed killer which contains the active ingredient 2,4-D.

JORDI: Centipedegrass requires very little nitrogen, therefore, the fertilizer you are currently using is too high in nitrogen compared to the amount of potassium.  We would recommend a configuration of 15-0-15.  Remember the configuration is listed in the order of nitrogen first, phosphorus second and potassium last.  It would be prudent to apply nitrogen in the formulation of nitrogen sulfate for centipedegrass as this grass prefers a more acid soil between 5.5 and 6.5. The sulfur compound in nitrogen sulfate will help lower the soil pH on a temporary basis which will enable centipedegrass to absorb the nutrients.

Consider fertilizing centipedegrass only twice a year, spring and fall.  Centipedegrass will never be as dark green as the standard St. Augustinegrass so do not try to over fertilize to produce the dark green color.

It is possible a portion of the damage to your lawn may have been caused by the weed killer.  Some herbicide labels containing 2,4-D indicates the product should not be used on certain cultivars of St. Augustinegrass or centipedegrass.  Therefore, it is possible the damage on your lawn may have been caused by the combination of herbicide and the application of the high nitrogen from the fertilizer.  _____________


Rebecca Jordi will talk about seasonal gardening at the Nassau County Demonstration Garden (Nassau Place in Yulee, Florida) on September 15, 2010. The class is free, from 10 to 11 am. Call 904-491-7340 for more information.

Rebecca Jordi

Rebecca L. Jordi
University of Florida/IFAS
Nassau County Extension
Environmental Horticulture Agent III
543350 U. S. Highway #1
Callahan, FL 32011
904-548-1116 or 904 879-1019