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Garden Pests

The lush green leaves and perfumed blossoms provide an inviting veneer which covers a menacing reality.  It is a jungle out there, even if the predators are small and people are usually on the menu.

Lurking beneath the foliage are aggressive and voracious creatures which may attack in near infinite waves with only the thought of reducing their objective to mere twigs.  Spring may turn a young man’s heart to love (and baseball), but bugs want to eat.

For many homeowners, this is the season where nature’s fury is encounters at its fullest, and most expensive.  More than one has made divine entreaties seeking relief from plagues worse than those Ramses II endured.

One of the major culprits is aphids.  This nearly invisible insect uses stealth and disguise to do its damage to flawless landscapes and vegetable gardens of Wakulla County.

Points of attack are on the underside of leaves and on the herbaceous new-growth stems.   Aphids set up colonies where they pierce the plant’s vascular system like hordes of tiny vampires.

Soon spots appear on the leaves and die-off can occur.  To add injury to the infestation, the aphids open the plant to a variety of diseases which are unsightly at best and fatal at worst.

While latched to the plants, aphids have a naturally occurring problem of their own, that being Ladybugs. The brightly colored insects frequent children’s books and movies as friendly, benign creature always with a cheery smile and kind word.  Reality is quite different.

These ungainly flyers constantly hunt for juicy aphids whose only defense is a good hiding place and luck.  Ladybugs land with a diminutive clatter alerting the aphids to the horrors which will soon be forthcoming.

The fast and surprisingly agile, ladybugs quickly acquire a target and close in for the kill. What follows is a tiny version of “Jurassic Park” on steroids.  For the aphids it is not pretty, but for the gardener it is justice delivered for damage done.

Unfortunately, ladybugs will fall prey to the use of chemical insecticides along with the offending destructive insect.  If the ladybug population is high, give them a chance to clean up the problems before turning to the nuclear option.

Nature has delivered some vexing challenges and unusual situations to Wakulla County gardeners who desire to produce fresh vegetables. Those close to the coast on tidal creeks and marshes have a uniquely difficult problem.

The wharf crab is found mostly around pilings, stumps, rubble and shell. It is an intertidal creature and active above the water line at low tide.

In natural settings it grazes primarily on detritus and fallen vegetation, though they will scavenge dead marine animals to a lesser degree. The wrack line of seaweed is a common foraging area for wharf crabs, but they are not found on a sandy beach.

For local gardeners the tiny crabs are a pest which eats tomatoes and eggplant while still in the garden.  About the only hope is a flock of hungry seagulls with a deft touch to take the crabs and leave the vegetables.

To learn more about Wakulla County’s lawn and garden pest, and how to control them, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/.

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