Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: My husband says I am crazy but I believe I have seen a black pig in our neighborhood. Is that possible?

Wild Hogs

Wild Hogs

A:   You are not crazy and you most certainly could have seen a wild pig in the Northeast part of Florida.  There are indeed wild pigs in the Northeast Florida. Florida’s wild hogs are often referred to as feral hogs or swine and are of three general types. The first type is the free-ranging swine from domesticated stock, the second are the Eurasian wild boar, and the third are hybrids of the two.  Although technically the term “feral” refers to free-ranging animals descended from domesticated stock, all wild hogs are typically referred to as feral in Florida, whether they descend from wild boar or from domesticated stock. Likewise, all wild hogs in Florida are considered the same species, Sus scrofa. Wild hogs are in the family Suidae (true wild pigs), none of which are native to the Americas. Wild hog size and weight are variable, and depend on genetics and local conditions. Typically, male hogs (called boars) weigh 200+ pounds and stand 3 feet at the shoulder.  Females, called sows are much smaller than male hogs. Hogs have 4 continually growing, self-sharpening tusks (2 in the upper and 2 in the lower jaw; upper and lower tusks rub against each other, which keeps them sharp).  All wild hogs have an excellent sense of smell and good hearing, but relatively poor vision. Hogs prefer large forested areas with abundant food, particularly acorns, interspersed with marshes, hammocks, ponds, and drainages. The list of foods hogs eat is diverse and includes grass, forb, and woody plant stems, roots, tubers, leaves, seeds, and fruits, fungi, and a variety of animals including worms, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, small birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians Humans are the main predators of wild hogs, but large carnivores such as alligators, black bears, and Florida panthers may be capable of preying on adult animals. Piglets are also preyed upon by smaller predators including foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Hunting is an important control method for wild hogs because it provides recreational opportunities, is inexpensive, and can be useful at reducing numbers of adult animals. Trapping is usually a better method of controlling hog numbers than hunting, especially when the animals are active at night. For more complete information check out the UF/IFAS publication “Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management” from which I obtained the above information: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw322


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Q: When do hummingbirds come to Florida?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

 

A:  Well, the arrival of hummingbirds varies slightly from year to year, especially here in Northeast Florida.  We generally say spring but those dates can range anytime in the month of March.  The hummingbirds leave us in September.  But here it is, early March and I saw my first hummingbird.  The red flowers of the red buckeye tree are abundant in my yard and they are already providing nectar for the hummingbirds.  The male hummingbirds arrive first and the females follow about a week later.  Nests are often built near water with two eggs per nest. It takes about 20 days to incubate and about 4 weeks for the babies to mature and leave the nest. Baby hummingbirds are fed insects by parents but once they leave the nest they consume mostly nectar. One hummingbird may require nectar from hundreds of blossoms every day to maintain its body weight. While it is fun to put out hummingbird feeders (I have one in my yard too), we would also recommend planting flowing trees and shrubs to provide natural sources of nectar and nesting sites.  Some good choices are bottlebrush, firecracker, firebush, firespike, salvia, red buckeye, etc.  If you want to make your own nectar then take 1 part white, granulated, cane sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the sugar solution to help dissolve the sugar. Then allow it to cool before filling a feeder. This concentration is about the same as wildflower nectar. Using a sweeter solu­tion, sugar substitutes or honey could be lethal to hummingbirds. It also is not necessary to add red food coloring. The birds will be attracted to the red feeders.  Here in Florida, you may need to change the feeder several times a week as the temperatures increase.  It is important to not allow the solution to ferment.  Clean the feeders with hot water and white vinegar but do not use soap or chlorine bleach.  If you have several hummingbird feeders, then it is best to keep the feeders at least 10 feet apart as these birds can be territorial.


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Q: I am having a terrible time with the squirrels eating the bark from my maple and oak trees. What can I do?

Squirrel

Squirrel

A:  Eastern Gray Squirrels are the most frequently seen mammal in our area. They are members of the Rodent family, and spend most of their lives in trees. Eastern Gray Squirrels usually live to be about five years old. They survive with their good sense of vision, smell, and hearing. Although squirrels may be amusing to watch (except when they are eating my bird seed); they can indeed damage trees significantly.  They typically strip bark during winter and spring but there is no reason to think this could not occur any other time of year. Deciduous trees with smooth bark sustain the most damage, but other trees can be targeted.  Remember, deciduous trees are the ones dropping their leaves in the fall. Twig clipping occurs most frequently in spring and early fall. Fortunately, trees can sustain damage up to 50 percent of the trunk’s circumference and foliage losses up to 30 percent without significant impacts. If the squirrels chew more than 50% of a limb it is possible for the limb to die and ultimately break off and fall to the ground. Landowners can prevent damage to trees by installing metal collars. The metal collars can be used to encircle trees and prevent squirrels from traveling up and down the limb. Collars should be at least 2 feet wide and placed 6 to 8 feet above the ground. Collar edges should be overlapped and connected by springs to allow for tree growth. These same types of collars could be placed on the limbs.


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Q: Rabbits are eating my Asiatic jasmine. What can I do?

Marsh Rabbit

Marsh Rabbit

A:  As youngsters, we have learned to love these furry little critters but now as landowners we have a very different perspective.  I have a few hints which should help:  1. Removing dense, heavy vegetative cover, brush piles, weed patches, junk dumps and stone piles adjacent to the landscape will help eliminate rabbit habitats.  2. Fencing made from chicken wire, with mesh less than 1″, can be placed around a vegetable garden or herbaceous plant border. The fence must be at least 2′ high with the bottom buried at least 3″ deep.  3. You can also use cylinders of 1/4″ wire hardware cloth extending higher than a rabbit’s reach by placing them around the trunks of individual trees and shrubs. Bury the bottom of the cylinders 2″ to 3″ inches below ground level and place them 1″ to 2″inches from the trunk. 4.  There are a few plants rabbits don’t particularly like: yarrow, aster, wild indigo, daylily, geranium, iris and sedum.  5.  There are plenty of things on the market which supposedly repel deer and rabbits such as products containing capsaicin, which is the main ingredient in hot chili peppers.  But we have no extensive research to support their claims.


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Q: I don’t see the small green lizards here anymore. I used to see them all the time when I moved here ten years ago. They seem to have been replaced by a brown variety. What happened?

Brown anole

Brown anole

A: Most likely what you are now seeing is the Cuban brown anole, Anolis sagrei. Apparently this lizard was first detected in 1887 in the Florida Keys but has become fully established within the last 10 years.  An increase in the population occurred in the early 1940s as it was detected in many areas of South Florida.  It became more fully established in urban areas south of Gainesville by 1980. From there it spread to north Florida and the panhandle then extended to Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas either in landscape container plants and/or by cars and trucks.  Larger populations of the brown anole began to be seen along major highways at rest areas, campgrounds and hotels in the mid 1990s. Severe cold winters have from time to time reduced their population but this lizard has able to keep a sustainable number of offspring to continue future generations. They are even able to populate islands as they hitch rides on boats or firewood transferred by boaters or campers. This species thrives in disturbed habitats and ornamental plantings but can potentially inhabit almost any inland or coastal habitat in Florida. It is apparently the most abundant anole over much of the southern half of peninsular Florida, and populations now occur in every county in Florida. It often perches low in trees and shrubs but is quite terrestrial, often escaping by running along the ground. Males reach a length of 20 cm (8 in). The body is brown, and males often have bands of yellowish spots, whereas females and juveniles have a light vertebral stripe with dark, scalloped edges.  The hanging fold of skin under the neck is called a dewlap. The edge of the dewlap is white and appears as a stripe on the throat when not distended. The dewlap may vary in color from a bright red-orange to pale yellow.  They are prolific hunters, similar to the green anoles.  It is regrettable the brown anole could not live well with the green anole but this is a common result when an invasive species is introduced and has no local predators to keep it in check.