University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director for Nassau County, Rebecca Jordi, provides expertise and tips about northeast Florida gardening and landscaping.

Gardening Topics, Northeast Florida

QUESTION: I like your definition of a weed, which is simply any plant in the wrong place.  So, I am not sure it this is a wildflower or a weed.  I live around a retention pond and there are several patches of it.  CL

JORDI:  Thank you for sending me a photo and more importantly, I am grateful you did not pull it up. Remember, wildflowers should not be pulled from their natural habitat nor should we glean the seeds. Otherwise we will be reducing future populations in their native habitat. The Forest Rangers motto is to not take anything out of the forest and do not leave anything either. We can take all the photos we want, which is exactly what you did. Good job! 

Orange Milkwort Growing In Florida
Orange Milkwort Growing In Florida

This wildflower is called orange milkwort, Polygala lutea or candy root, Polygala nana. Orange milkwort is found throughout most of Florida and a common flower here in Northeast Florida. It prefers moist soil, which explains why you see it most often around the retention pond. It is a biennial which means it has two seasons to grow the green basal leaves then put up a short (2-3 inch) flower stalk to display the bright orange flowers. There would be no missing this pretty cluster of flowers. The leaves of the orange milkweed are a medium green color and succulent. 

QUESTION:  I found these tiny, white cotton clumps on blades of grass in my yard.  What are they?  JC

Fall Armyworm Egg Mass Florida Gardening
Fall Armyworm Egg Mass

JORDI:  I appreciate you bringing in a sample which made it much easier to identify.  These are the eggs of the Fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda. The number of eggs per mass varies considerably but is often 100 to 200, and total egg production per female averages about 1,500 with a maximum of over 2,000.

Duration of the egg stage is only two to three days during the summer months. Young larvae are greenish with a black head. The face of the mature larva is also marked with a white inverted “Y.”  Larvae tend to conceal themselves during the brightest time of the day. Duration of the larval stage tends to be about 14 days during the summer and 30 days during cool weather. Larval feeding occurs uniformly in groups over larger areas, rather than in patches.

Caterpillars first skeletonize the grass blades and later create bare spots in the lawn. This species seemingly displays a very wide host range, with over 80 plants recorded, but clearly prefers grasses. Other crops sometimes injured are apple, grape, orange, peach, strawberry and several flowers. Weeds known to serve as hosts include bentgrass, crabgrass, Johnson grass, morning glory, nutsedge, pigweed, and sandspur. The predators of fall armyworm are general predators attacking many other caterpillars. Among the predators noted as important are various ground beetles, striped earwig, the spined soldier bug, and the insidious flower bug. Vertebrates such as birds, skunks, and rodents also consume larvae and pupae readily.

Hand removal of the eggs is possible but there is no chemical to control the egg stage. Treat at the first sign of damage for best results. Insecticides are more effective against younger caterpillars. Apply chemicals to lawns between May and June but do not over apply. Please read the directions on the label.  Please read more information from the UF/IFAS publication: Fall Armyworm by Dr. John Capinera.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN25500.pdf

QUESTION:  I know it is late in the season for growing plants and vegetables, but can you suggest a few? 

Herbs: Continue to plant heat-loving herbs, including basil, oregano, Mexican tarragon, and rosemary. See Herbs for Florida.

Vegetables: Swiss chard will take the heat as well as okra, southern pea, and sweet potato. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida.

DayLily Flowers (Photo credit UFIFAS)
Daylily Flowers (Photo credit UFIFAS)

Bulbs: Planting early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties of daylily ensures months of color from these low-maintenance plants. See Daylilies for Florida, and Bulbs for Florida.

JORDI:  Annuals: It is not too late for the following plants: annuals/bedding plants able to take the summer heat:  salvia, angelonia, wax begonia, and ornamental pepper. See Annuals for Florida.

Rebecca L. Jordi
Nassau County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture

543350 U.S. Highway #1
Callahan, FL 32011
904-530-6351