Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

January’s Garden Money-Saving Tip: Make Your Own Vegetable Stock January 17, 2014

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Make Your Own Vegetable Stock
by Nicole Pinson, Urban Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator and
Dr. Mary Keith, Food, Nutrition and Health Extension Agent UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County

I love to cook, and this year one of my resolutions is to make more meals at home. I find chopping vegetables (like weeding!) cathartic, and preparing a tasty, elegant meal for myself is a gift. So, while cooking tonight’s mushroom barley soup (it’s getting really cold in Florida- time to start making and freezing soups!), I thought of this month’s tip.

We chop our veggies and add them to meals. And, some of us are smart enough to save those kitchen scraps and throw them on the compost pile, with the understanding that our kitchen scraps will add nutrients to the compost pile, rendering them into a rich, fertile soil we can later add to more crops or our landscape beds.

I have a suggestion to make those kitchen scraps go even further: use them for stock and then compost them! Two uses for the same valuable “scraps.”

Celery stalks and leaves can be added to soups and stocks. Photo: Carolyn Keeney

Celery stalks and leaves can be added to soups and stocks. Photo: Carolyn Keeney

Homemade stock is easy and lends a delicious base to soups. When I cook, I keep a zip top bag next to the wood chopping block for tops of carrots, onion skins, tomato cores. For tonight’s dinner, my bag was stuffed with onion and garlic skins, carrot tops and bottoms, celery stems and leaves (I actually love to use celery leaves in dishes and as a garnish) and mushroom stems.

Zip top bag filled with stock ingredients. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Zip top bag filled with stock ingredients. Photo: Nicole Pinson

If you have space in the freezer, you can gradually accumulate a good mixture of vegetable scraps over time, to get a better blend of flavors. Vegetables in the cabbage family in particular – turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli – are quite strong-flavored and can overpower the flavor. Once your frozen bag is full, follow Mary’s directions below to make your stock.

Place clean kitchen scraps in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered from 15 minutes to 1 ½ hours. The longer cooking will release more flavor if you have the time. Then squeeze or strain all the water out of those vegetables. Just straining them makes a clearer stock, while pressing them will often make a cloudy but thicker stock. I use a wooden spoon in a sieve for pressing, but a potato masher would work well too.

Use the stock immediately in soups or freeze and save for later. Stock will keep for 3-5 days in the refrigerator or 8 months in the freezer. Freeze it in quantities that you will use at one time, so that you can thaw just enough for your next recipe.

After you’ve made your meal with fresh vegetables, use the pieces to make your stock. By making your own homemade stock, you’ll create delicious meals, add more minerals and maybe a few vitamins to your food and use more of the produce you’ve purchased. You will also be able to make it with little or no salt, a big benefit since most commercial stocks and broths are very high in sodium. Then, discard those veggies on your compost pile.

Compost your scraps after using them in stock. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Compost your scraps after using them in stock. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Now, you successfully got “more bang for your buck,” cooking meals at home, making fresh stock and composting. Bon appétit!

Nicole Pinson
Extension Agent – Urban Horticulture
Master Gardener Coordinator
UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County
5339 County Road 579
Seffner, FL 33584-3334
p: (813) 744-5519 X 54145


Summer Flowers Could be Pesky Weed April 17, 2013

It’s April, and you may start to see these “beautiful” yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers falling from the sky or branches of your trees. Although it may resemble Allamanda, it may actually be cat’s claw vine. Macfadyena unguis-cati develops strong vines that grow up trees, fences, and buildings.

"Snake-like” seed pod, yellow trumpet-shaped flower, and young seedling.

“Snake-like” seed pod, yellow trumpet-shaped flower, and young seedling.

Look for identifying clues, such as vines climbing to the tops of trees, woody stems, tuberous roots, terminal 3-forked tendrils that appear “claw-like,” trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, and linear, flat fruit (seed) capsule. The runners may appear to be a groundcover.

Cat’s claw vine, Macfadyena unguis-cati is a nonnative, introduced plant that has become an ecological threat, naturalizing in north Florida and Georgia. Originating in the West Indies, Mexico, and Argentina, it may be confused with our native yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium spp. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council categorized Cat’s claw vine as a Category I exotic invasive.

For more information on identification and control, please contact the Hillsborough County Extension Service at (813) 744-5519.

Cat’s claw vine.

Cat’s claw vine.

Note: leaves opposite, compound, 2-leaflets, and terminal 3-forked, “claw-like” tendril.

Note: leaves opposite, compound, 2-leaflets, and terminal 3-forked, “claw-like” tendril.

Seedlings- note tuberous roots.

Seedlings showing tuberous roots.


UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants


Visit this website to see the UF/IFAS Assessment, download a recognition card, download a page from  from Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Pub SP 257. 2008.

BioNET-EAFRINET Keys and Fact Sheets

Macfadyena ungus-cati (Cat’s Claw Creeper)


Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States: http://www.invasive.org

Ward, D.B. 2005. Putting a stop to the cat-claw vine infestation in Gainesville. Wildland Weeds 8(3):17.

Nicole Pinson
Extension Agent – Urban Horticulture
Master Gardener Coordinator
UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service
5339 County Road 579
Seffner, FL 33584-3334
p: (813) 744-5519 X 54145


The “Natural” Gardener: A Profile March 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 4:11 pm
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I just sat through a webinar hosted by the Garden Writers Association about, “Getting to Know the New Natural and Organic Gardener”. Based on a study conducted by IPSOS-Reid on behalf of ScottsMiracle-Gro, they were interested in determining the following:

  • Who are the consumers most interested in natural and organic gardening products?
  • What do they look like demographically?
  • What are their “green” attitudes and behaviors outside of gardening?
  • What are their concerns and motivations?

Here’s my summary of the take-away message. I hope you find this useful in some way…

2 Categories of product users:

  • Natural (meaning they had used a “natural” product for lawn/garden/indoor pest use in the last 12 months; they could have also used conventional products during this time)
  • Conventional (meaning they only used conventional products for lawn/garden/indoor use in the last 12 months)

For the most part, the “Natural” group tended to look like this:

  • 35 years old or younger
  • Have kids and pets
  • More likely to engage in DIY projects
  • More engaged in outdoor activities
  • More educated
  • More ethnically diverse
  • Interested in all types of plants (ornamentals and edibles)

Motivators for using natural products:

  • Environmental health
  • Children’s and pets’ health
  • Rate of chemical exposure
  • Overall safety
  • Perception that organically grown food is healthier and tastes better

Barriers to using Naturals:

  • Cost
  • Efficacy
  • Don’t understand how they work
  • Don’t believe that they work
  • Don’t feel that they need to use any product (natural or conventional) at all

Products labeled "eco-friendly" are more likely to be purchased than products labeled "organic".

Based on the survey, here are the key data that stood out the most:

  • Conventional products are chosen most often for insect control
  • The top destinations for purchasing all types of products (natural and conventional) are Home Depot (48%), Wal-Mart (36%) and Lowe’s (33%)
  • There is a general perception that natural products are more expensive than conventional products.
  • “Organic” is most recognized as a synonym with “natural” when it comes to product labeling, BUT consumers are more likely to purchase products that are labeled “natural” or “eco-friendly” rather than “organic”.
  • Products labeled “natural” are most often purchased for lawns and indoor insect control, while products labeled “eco-friendly” are most often purchased for gardens.
  • Natural product users are MORE LIKELY to water their lawns and gardens than conventional product users. (When asked by the media why, the response was that these individuals are probably more highly engaged and spend more time caring for their lawns and gardens, and therefore are probably more in-tune with when their lawns and gardens need water…)

What was most interesting to me about this whole thing was that marketing seems to be driving consumer choices more than science when it comes to lawn and landscape care. I realize this is not news, but it can be frustrating as an educator…

I would be curious to see how this data shakes out specifically for Florida, since Florida homeowners have much more in the way of lawn and landscape care issues than any other state (with the exception of maybe Hawaii).


Daylight Savings Can Mean Water Savings Too! March 14, 2011

Daylight Savings Time means many things to many people. For me, it means losing an hour of perfectly good weekend and having to wake up when it’s still dark out. Sigh…

In the gardening world though, Daylight Savings Time — as a man-made construct — serves no real purpose, but can cause real problems for a homeowner. If you use an automatic controller to turn your irrigation system on and off at a designated time (or even if you don’t), you should keep reading.

The University of Florida IFAS recommends watering your lawn and landscape very early in the morning (when most self-respecting folks are still asleep). There are two

Water left on plant leaves overnight invite more problems into the landscape.

reasons for this. First, there is less wind at this time of the day, so you won’t lose as much water, thus increasing the efficiency of your efforts. Second, by the time the entire landscape has been watered, the sun will be coming up, so the excess water will evaporate, reducing the chance for problems like fungus and mildew to creep in.

There is a third reason to water early, though, and it’s tied to the rules of your local Water Management District (WMD). Here in Hillsborough County, Florida, we are under the jurisdiction of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). It regulates the water restrictions for the counties in their area based on rainfall patterns (past, present and forecasted) and other factors.

As of writing this blog today (March 14, 2011), the SWFWMD has declared a Phase I Water Shortage. In layman terms, this translates to the following:

Setting your irrigation timer is not difficult and can save you lots of headache in the long-run.

  • Lawn watering is limited to twice per week.
  • Lawn watering days and times are as follows unless your city or county has a different schedule or stricter hours in effect:
    • Even addresses may water on Thursday and/or Sunday before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
    • Odd addresses may water on Wednesday and/or Saturday before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
    • Locations without a discernible address, such as rights-of-way and other common areas inside a subdivision, may water on Tuesday and/or Friday before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Keep in mind that your local utilities can set watering restrictions that are more stringent than the WMDs, so check with them too to be sure you’re following the rules. The penalty for violating local water restrictions may include a hefty fine. For folks living in a SWFWMD county, go to this website for your local utility’s watering restrictions – http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/restrictions/.

So if you’re the type to “set-it-and-forget-it” when it comes to your irrigation controller, you may want to stroll into your garage this week and take 5 minutes to make some simple adjustments. This quick and painless addition to your spring “to-do” list may have several long-term benefits, not only for the health of your plants, but for your wallet too!


2011 Schedule – EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival March 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 2:39 am
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There’s always something blooming at the Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival. Use this schedule to plan your visit around the Special Experience and Celebrations. Located next to Mission: Space in Future World at Epcot, the Festival Center showcases HGTV and HGTV.com celebrities on weekends and other experts — including “Master Gardeners” from University of Florida, Walt Disney World Horticulturists and a mix of national and regional TV/radio personalities, authors and educators — seven days a week. Here’s what’s happening:

The HGTV Designers’ Stage in the Festival Center features presentations daily at noon and 3 p.m. on a broad range of garden and design topics — beginning with “Butterflies & Beyond” by entomologist Jaret Daniels on the opening two days of the festival. Each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through May 15, popular experts from HGTV will take over, beginning with Genevieve Gorder (HGTV Design Star and Dear Genevieve) March 4-6 on the topic “The Art of Sculpting Space.”

Meanwhile, at the Festival Center’s Greenhouse Stage daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Disney Horticulturists, authors and educators will share tips and secrets guests can plant in their own garden. These limited-space sessions include interactive hands-on discoveries during which guests make something to take home.

Experts from University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) present Planting Pointers – gardening ideas for everyone — daily at 1 and 4 p.m. Guests also can Ask an Expert – a UF/IFAS “Master Gardener” — their gardening questions from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

HGTV Designers’ Stage

Presentations daily at noon and 3 p.m.

(HGTV/HGTV.com celebrity distinctions are noted in parentheses)

March 2-3: “Butterflies & Beyond” — Jaret C. Daniels

March 4-6: “The Art of Sculpting Space” — Genevieve Gorder (HGTV Design Star and Dear Genevieve)

March 7-10: “Passalong Plants” — Felder Rushing

March 11-13: “Design It Yourself: Easy-to-follow Tips for Designing Your Favorite Rooms” — Lisa LaPorta (Designed to Sell)

March 14-17: “Grow Great Grub” — Gayla Trail

March 18-20: “The 5 DIY Secrets That Can Transform Any Space” — Kim Myles (Myles of Style)

March 21-24: “10 Heirloom Plants You Should Be Growing” / “New & Exciting Plants for Every Garden” — Danielle Sherry

March 25-27: “Mobile Gardens” — Brian Patrick Flynn (Design Happens, HGTV.com)

March 28-31: “Secrets of the Garden Revealed & More Plants For Free” — Ken Druse

April 1-3: “Adding Value to Your Home without Breaking the Bank” — Taniya Nayak (Designed to Sell and Destination Design)

April 4-7: “Four Season Garden & Proven Combinations” — Erica Glasener

April 8-10: “Life, Love and Landscaping” — Ahmed Hassan (Yard Crashers)

April 11-14: “Container Gardening: From Dirt to Design & The Secret to Combining Plants” — Steve Aitken

April 15-17: “Gardening with Kids: Fun Seed Starting Projects” — Patti Moreno (Garden Girl, HGTV.com)

April 18-21: “Year-round Garden-tainment” — Melinda Myers

April 22-24: “Creative, Back-to-Basics Style for All Things Natural and Decorative” — Michele Beschen (B. Original)

April 25-28: “Herbal Blends from Around the World” — Susan Belsinger & Tina Marie Wilcox

April 29-May 1: “The Design Process: Curb Appeal Projects from Concept to Construction” — John Gidding (Curb Appeal: The Block)

May 2-5: “The Small-Budget Gardener” — Maureen Gilmer

May 6-8: “Beautiful on a Budget: High Style, Low Cost Secrets to Bringing Indoor Styling Outside” — Frank Fontana (Design on a Dime)

May 9-12: “Slow Gardening” — Felder Rushing

May 13-15: “Top Design Trends Made Affordable and Accessible” — Vern Yip (HGTV Design Star)

Greenhouse Stage

Presentations daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

(Visit the Festival Center for topics on days not noted)

March 4-6: “Groceries from the Garden” — Robert Bowden

March 10-13: “Gardening for all Generations” — Brenda Sandberg & Scott Hulett

March 17-20: “Gardening in Miniature” — Joseph Rainey

March 24-27: “Helpful Mower & Small Equipment Tips” — Scott Franklin

March 31-April 3: “Tropical Edibles” — Jarrod Stewart

April 7-10: “Fun Holiday Projects” — Doug Benedict

April 15-17: “Gardening Challenges” — Tom MacCubbin

April 21-24: “Seed, Sow & Grow” — Ed Buhler

April 28-May 1: “Inspiring Patio Designs” — Allison Brooks

May 6-8: “Mastery & Mind in Living Flowers” — Ricardo Bansho Carrasco

May 12-15: “A to Z on Herbs” — Tracy Fischer

The presentations are included with Epcot admission, but seating is limited and on a first-come basis. Speakers, presentations and guests are subject to change without notice. For more Epcot International Flower & Garden information, visit disneyworld.com/flower.


UF IFAS Speaker Schedule

Every day, 1 pm and 4 pm

March 2– March 6 – Fabulous Foliage

Anita Neal- St. Lucie County Extension Agent

Karen Stauderman- Volusia County Extension Agent

March 7– March 13 – Success with Vegetable Gardens

Ed Thralls – Orange County Extension Agent

Rebecca Jordi – Nassau County Extension Agent

March 14– March 20– Easy to Grow Exotic Orchids

Tom Wichman -University of Florida

Kim Kruse- University of Florida

March 21-March 27 – Good Bug-Bad Bug – Learn to Scout

Diane Jacobson- Highlands County Extension Agent

Larry Williams- Okaloosa County Extension Agent

March 28- April 3– Success with Container Gardens

Charles Fedunak – Lake County Extension Agent

Jim Moll – Hernando County Extension Agent

April 4- April 10 – Gardening for the Birds

Dan Culbert – Okeechobee County Extension Agent

Beth Bolles – Escambia County Extension Agent

April 11 – April 17 — Exciting Color for the Landscape

Brooke Moffis – Sumter County Extension Agent

Norma Samuel – Marion County Extension Agent

April 18 – April 24 – Amazing Trees

Jennifer Pelham- Osceola County Extension Agent

April 25 – May 1 – Compost and Garden Recycling Tips

Adrian Hunsberger – Miami Dade County Extension Agent

May 2 – May 5 – Right Plant/Right Place

Theresa Badurek -Pinellas County Extension Agent

May 6 – May 8 — –No Speaker

May 9 – May 12 – Conserving Water in the Landscape

BJ Jarvis – Pasco County Extension Agent

Marina D’Abreau – Hillsborough County Extension Agent


Especially for Kids – Daily Events

Bee Scavenger Hunt -Children of all ages can hunt to find Guelain “bees” in the garden. Located in the Fragrance Garden.

Bambi’s Butterfly House- Experience a Festival favorite, now more than double the size! Wander among hundreds of native butterflies and see some of your favorite characters from Bambi, presented in topiary.

Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden – Take flight into the garden world of Pixie Hollow and meet some of your favorite fairies in person daily 9:30 am – 5:15 pm and see them presented in topiary, too. Play structures desighned for ages 2-5.

GoGo on the Go Challenge – Fun for the whole family! Test your relay race skills or relax and discover more about healthy snacks that are fun to eat in the GoGo activity area.

The Art of Green Living – Adjacent to German Pavilion Discover how you can create an environmentally friendly, low-imput garden of your own as you explore this unique garden.


Special Weekend Happenings

March 25 – 27: World Showcase, Art in the Garden Weekend

April 29, 30 and May 1: Festival Center, Fresh From Florida Weekend

May 6 – 8: Festival Center, Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc.

May 6 – 8: Festival Center, 1:00 & 4:00 pm, Guerlain’s Enchanted Gardens

May 13 – 15: Park-wide, It’s a Disney-Pixar Weekend to Celebrate Cars 2


My Garden Nemesis? Drake Elm Seedlings… March 5, 2011

Late winter and early spring in central Florida should be a time for new beginnings. In the garden, that means pruning plants to encourage new growth, creating new landscaped beds, and replenishing mulch in existing beds. The experience should be rejuvenating and enjoyable.

The drake elm is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter months.

During our last workday at the Bette S Walker Discovery Garden at the UF IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service, however, it was anything but.

We received an extraordinary number  of phone calls late last year about the bumper crop of acorns that were falling on heads and being stashed away by squirrels. But there was another plant that took advantage of the early December freeze and quick warm-up immediately after — the drake elm.

This tree, often stunning because of its textured bark, long limbs and small, delicate leaves, produced a record number of seeds this year. These seeds are very small and are easily carried on the wind.

Drake elm seedlings in the mulch

But what do you get from seeds? That’s right… SEEDLINGS!!! Thousands and thousands of them. Under the tree, in the mulch, in the pots, in the bromeliads, in the bird feeder, under the bench, along the edge of the pond, in the Asiatic jasmine ground cover, in-between the pavers… need I say more?

Days after hitting them with a 5% solution of Roundup®, they still stood tall and green, mocking me. So while the Master Gardener volunteers were enjoying the glorious weather in which to prune and plant, I was cursing under my breath crawling on hands and knees to rid every inch of the Discovery Garden from my nemesis — elm seedlings.

Luckily, they were merely growing in the top layer of mulch, so I was able to take a hard rake and fluff the mulch, thereby disturbing the tender roots of the seedlings. This was by no means a permanent fix, but at least I’ve thwarted maybe 50% of them from their cunning plan to take over the garden.

In another week or so, I’ll head out there again to attack the remaining vigilante seedlings before their roots actually touch soil! AARRGGHH!

More elm seedlings...

After raking the mulch and disturbing the seedlings


Winter Bloomers March 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:41 pm
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Spring is in the air, but it’s still technically winter! The warmer weather is causing lots of plants to put out new growth and bloom right now, but a particularly spectacular specimen (say that 3 times fast…) in the Discovery Garden this week is the native eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).

This small to medium tree produces bright, magenta pink flowers in late winter and early spring, before putting out a mass of new leaves. Because of the early and very cold December we experienced, the blooms are even more prolific than usual. A common landscape tree in most parts of the eastern U.S., redbud is often overlooked in central and south Florida because the lack of cold winters often prevents a showy bloom. Redbud like moist but well-drained, alkaline soils and will do well either as a mass planting or a stand-alone specimen in the landscape.

This crossvine will disguise the cistern

Another great Florida native plant that blooms in the winter months is crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). This vine is fast-growing and high-climbing, with showy flowers that appear in late winter and early spring. The flowers are trumpet-shaped, orange to reddish-orange to red, 2 to 3 inches long in clusters of 2 to 5.

Hummingbirds love trumpet-shaped flowers

Cross vine will flourish under a wide variety of conditions, and spread by root sprouting if not managed. This vine is one of the first with red, trumpet-shaped flowers to greet returning hummingbirds in early spring. The related trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is similar, but climbs with ivy-like aerial roots instead of tendrils and blooms later in the summer. Plant the two together, though, and the hummingbirds will have flame colored tubular flowers from which to feed from early spring throughout the summer.

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) is yet another Florida native that is currently full of blooms. This small tree forms a rounded mass of slender, thorny branches sprouting from a short trunk. In spring, before the one to two-inch-long leaves appear, chickasaw plum is covered with small, white, fragrant flowers which make the trees quite decorative in the presence of other trees which are often still dormant.

The tiny red fruits which follow turn yellow when ripe, and are extremely popular with wildlife and humans. The plums are either eaten fresh or used to make a delicious jelly.

Tiny, fragrant flowers are everywhere on this tree!

The bark of the chickasaw plum is interesting, even without the flowers.


Master Gardeners Visit Riverview Flower Farm March 1, 2011

Each month, the UF IFAS Extension Master Gardener volunteers of Hillsborough County have the opportunity to learn something new and exciting about the plant world.

During their annual planning meeting in the Fall, Master Gardeners vote on their choices for a variety of educational field trips and/or lectures.

Last month, they voted to visit Riverview Flower Farm, a wholesale nursery that is responsible for those fantastic Florida Friendly Plants™ you see at your local Home Depot stores.

Rick Brown, owner of Riverview Flower Farm, was more than happy to show us around and talk about the sustainable practices he’s incorporated into the daily operations of his nursery, like composting and garlic pest repellent.

But rather than go into a long diatribe about it here, I’m going to link you to another blog by Meems, a fellow Master Gardener and all-round plant lover — http://www.hoeandshovel.com/2011/02/riverview-flower-farm-field-trip.html.


Don’t Judge a Snake by its Scales February 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 7:38 pm
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The snake slips and slides slowly, smoothly. Scales slither over soft grass, snaking silently to scare its prey… scary! (Borrowed from a grammar web site on alliteration.)

After our recent incident with the opossum in the Discovery Garden, it got me thinking about other garden critters that are around us. Some of these can be pretty inconspicuous and harmless, but they get a bad rep nonetheless. One in particular is snakes, and more specifically the black racer.

Did you know that you have a much greater chance of being in a car accident, getting a dog bite, being stung by a bee or being hit by lightning (we’re in Florida, remember) than getting a snake bite?

Adult black racer

The Southern black racer is a very common snake in much of Florida, and is a great means of rodent control. It eats a variety of prey items including frogs, lizards, mice, rats, small snakes and even birds’ eggs. As its name implies, the black racer is swift and agile. It spends most of its life on the ground, yet is an excellent climber and may be found in shrubs and small trees.

The juvenile black racer, however, has markings similar to the venomous pygmy rattlesnake, and often meets an untimely death because of this mistaken identity. Additionally, when threatened, the juvenile will coil up and “rattle” its tail in dry leaf litter in an attempt to mimic a rattlesnake. This ruse often works for other prey, which leave it alone, but humans see it as a threat and many will kill first, ask questions later.

Juvenile black racer

Pygmy rattlesnake

Most snakes in Florida can’t hurt you–let alone kill you. Venomous snakes like the coral snake and rattlesnakes are rarely seen in urban areas, because they don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them! It doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, so always be aware of your surroundings.

You can reduce the frequency of snake visits to your yard and home by eliminating firewood stacks, debris, boards, and other objects lying close to the ground that create appealingly cool, damp, and dark shelters and prey habitat areas. Remember, they’re looking for food, and these places are perfect for mice and other rodents to hide.

If you’re like me and find excitement in observing wildlife up close and personal, there is a great University of Florida IFAS publication on recognizing Florida’s venomous snakes – http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw229. However, PLEASE DO NOT PICK UP A SNAKE, even if you think it is non-venomous. All snakes will bite, if they feel threatened and have no other way of escape. And while there may not be any venom in the bite, it still hurts like the dickens… trust me, I speak from personal experience.

So, don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a snake by its scales… although the eyes might offer some clues. When in doubt, walk (or run) away. If you want more confirmation and can take a good photo of it, send it to your local Extension office for identification.


Unidentified Dung Mystery Solved! January 29, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 9:17 pm
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JoAnn, the horticulture program assistant at the Extension office, went in this morning to work in the garden, and what do you think she saw? Well, the trap was set for several days, but our elusive critter waited patiently until last night to check it out (too much human activity in the garden during the work week, I suppose).

This little guy is definitely more than a baby, but not quite an adult. According to JoAnn, he even smiled at her (without the usual hissing that accompanies a possum’s “smile”).

So for now, the digging and pooping problem has been solved. However, the kumquats are still a mystery, since opossums are not known for their meticulous and delicate eating habits. More than likely, we also have rats. Great…


The photo to the left was borrowed from another blog (thanks, Debi in Merida), because I’m posting this from home and don’t have an actual photo of the eaten kumquats. However, the evidence is similar. Note the carefully gnawed hole on one side of the fruit and the insides that have been eaten. The kumquats look the same, except there is nothing left of the insides, since it is much smaller than this orange.

These are the joys and the frustrations that go along with having a garden in Florida. You have to learn to share your bounty with other critters. I’m an only child, though, and I’ve never really been into sharing… just kidding.


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