Thorny Problem

Blackberries aren’t easily discouraged
Photo by iStock / Getty Images Plus: Gwenvidig

Keeping a well-groomed yard and home landscape requires frequent maintenance. Unfortunately, some of the greenery emerging is quite difficult to control and nearly impossible to eradicate. Compounding the problem, some weedy species like blackberries have thorns. 

Blackberries are commonly found in or close to untended fence rows, ditch banks and pastures. They can show up in home landscapes also. The lack of management in out-of-the-way spots can give rise to thickets, producing great volumes of seed which are easily dispersed to residential sites.

Blackberries have a very upright growth pattern with the potential to reach 3 feet or more in height. They easily hide in upright shrubs. Each plant is supported by a large lateral-growing root system, which sprouts and produces additional plants in its root zone. The rhizomatous root system is perennial, while the aboveground canes are biennial, living for two years.

Mowing is an effective practice if the goal is to restrain blackberry infestations to an acceptable level. However, blackberries are difficult to kill exclusively with mowing because the underground root structures are large. Herbicide application timing is important for effective blackberry control. This plant is most sensitive to herbicides when blooming in spring and in the fall, prior to frost.

Applications made soon after emergence from winter dormancy or during fruiting are less effective. It is also important that the plants are not drought-stressed at the time of herbicide application.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee. Photo by iStock / Getty Images Plus: Nata Korpusova

Black-Capped Chickadee 

The black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus, is a nonmigratory songbird species that calls this area home. A small bird, it ranges in body lengths from 4½ to 6 inches. Classified as a passerine, or perching bird, it has three toes facing forward and one backward. This characteristic makes standing or roosting on branches much easier.

Chickadees are frequent visitors to homes with bird feeders. Black oil sunflower seed is popular with this species, which usually takes the seed to a nearby branch to crack and eat. Insects are its dietary staple during the summer, making this bird a true feathered friend. Caterpillars are a particular seasonal favorite and form a large part of this songbird’s summertime diet.

An agile flyer, this bird sometimes pursues flying insects. Chickadees have been observed patiently hovering while stalking insects that dart for easy cover in dense foliage. During late autumn and winter, seeds and dried berries fill in for the absent insects. Beautyberry, dogwoods, sparkleberry and others sustain this bird through the lean cold months. Still, they will seek out larvae and insect eggs hidden under bark and leaf litter. Their days are spent hopping along branches in search of the morsel.

Thorny Problem 2

Milkweed Assassin Bug. Photo by iStock / Getty Images Plus: Chase D’animulls

Milkweed Assassin Bug

During the growing season, there are insect species that view foliage-dense locations as open smorgasbords ready for their visit. Luckily, there are others that stand guard and prevent the pillaging of these important resources.

Among the many native hunter insects is the milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longipes. Sometimes known as the long-legged assassin bug, it displays a bright orange coloration, especially during its juvenile stages of development. The species is common on the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic states.

This winged bug is slightly less than ¾-inch long and has a slender, straight beak with piercing, sucking mouthparts. These mouthparts have three segments.

When its beak is not in use, it is bent back and held under the thorax in a groove. It is carried much like a folding pocketknife, only to be extended when needed.

Adults and nymphs have a pear-shaped head, constricted neck and long, hairy legs, giving this insect an awkward, lanky appearance. Unlike many insects, the shape and appearance is generally the same throughout its life.

Milkweed assassin bugs spend their days pursuing prey. Like many bugs that employ ambush tactics, the milkweed assassin attacks prey after hiding inside foliage with its forelegs raised in the air.

Problems can arise when these insects encounter humans. It can deliver a nasty, but not lethal, surprise to the unsuspecting gardener who disturbs this ambush predator.

Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.


Categories: Gardening, Landscaping