University of Florida Extension ServiceUF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:

 September 30, 2008

Quick Links:   Garden Predators   Sandspurs    Walnut Caterpillar       

Feature Article – for release October 1, 2008

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent 

 How Does Your Garden Grow?

The local County Extension office has been asked by local newspapers papers to try out a question/answer column.  So – here goes:  

Garden Predators

Racoons can be destructiveCute & Cuddly? Think not if you are a gardener.  Raccoons can not only consume your garden but have been known to kill birds and small pets. Fencing is an inexpensive insurance policy. Photo: Cameron'sCorner

Hi, I am pretty new to the area and would like to start a garden but have a problem with a raccoons.  Also there are many birds.  How could I keep them out of the garden?  Thank you, - Jackie  - 

Garden predators are a growing concern.  There are no sure-fire ways to prevent this from occurring, but our best gardening minds offered these suggestions may work. Try using roll fence screening that is 4-6 foot tall. Stake it up with wooden tomato stakes so the top edge is too loose for critters to get over.  Dig fencing down a foot into the soil to discourage the smaller ground feeding critters like rabbits.  Remove any hiding places nearby your garden that give wildlife a place to hide. Hot pepper sprays will discourage some wildlife from eating your product, but remember to wash it off before eating.  Using a plastic open mesh netting over the garden plants will often discourage birds from landing on the plants and reducing damage from flying garden foes.

 Live trapping may work, but permission to release the varmint on someone’s private ground is required, otherwise you will have to destroy them yourself.  Permits to release wildlife on pubic lands are not going to be issued.  Firearms are not allowed near other buildings, but a large hungry dog that can be fenced in your area may challenge these uninvited guests. You may have to resort to planting a larger amount of seed or plants and sharing your produce with garden guests if none of these tricks work.  

Booth, Thurman W.  Bird Dispersal Techniques.  Little Rock, AK: USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services, 2005.

Kern, William H.  Raccoons [WEC-34]. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, Sept. 2002.  

Schaefer, Joe.  Dealing with Unwanted Wildlife in an Urban Environment [WEC-20].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension   Service, June 2006.  

Sticky seeds

My lawn is infested with sandspurs.  What can I spray to get rid of them? – Bob-

Sandspur PlantSand spurs or sand burs are the spiny seed of annual turfgrass weeds.  This is the time of year that these one-year old grasses produce these offending features that help them spread to other areas.  They fall to the ground and get buried in the soil, and will begin to germinate next spring when the cycle continues.  There are two good ways to reduce the number of encounters with these prickly problems.  

First, be sure you are maintaining your turfgrass correctly; that means follow the three good rules for grass.  (1) Don’t mow grass any shorter than 3-4 inches.  (2) Fertilize correctly, twice a year, with a slow-release granular fertilizer with no phosphorus in it. (3) Water correctly: no more than ½ inch a week of either rain or sprinklers.  These steps will encourage a vigorous turf that will crowd out the weeds. 

If good grass rules don’t do it, its time for stronger “medicine” in the form of weed killers.  Products like glyphosate (e.g. Roundup tm) will not prevent seeds from forming in the fall.  Instead, plant to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the early spring which kills the little seedlings when they begin to grow. Contact our office for names of specific weed-killers that will work for the type of grass you have in your yard.

Culbert, D.  Sticky Sandspur.  Okeechobee: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 10/2003.

Sandburs. [Gardening in a Minute website]. Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service, 6/20/2008

 An Early fall for Pecan trees

I have a pecan tree here by my house in Buckhead Ridge. I never saw these worms before, they have taken all the leaves off my tree, and their poop is raining down on my sidewalk and roof.  What can I do to kill these creepy crawlies and save my tree?  -Wendy-

Pecan tree without leaves Walnut Caterpillars
It's not fall - it's hoards of hungry worms that took all the leaves off this pecan tree near Okeechobee. Photo: Wendy Watts, Okeechobee MG - UF/IFAS These caterpillars rapidly defoliated several Pecan trees in Buckhead Ridge. Photo: Wendy Watts, Okeechobee MG - UF/IFAS

It took some detective work but I stumbled onto a caterpillar that you were able to confirm is the offending tree pest: the Walnut Caterpillar Moth, Datana integerrima.  The tan colored adult moth lays clusters of small white eggs on the leaves of pecans, walnuts and hickories throughout the eastern US.    They begin to slowly consume the leaves of these favored trees, and ignore other species in the landscape.  As they get larger they turn in color from green to red-brown to black with long airs.   Clumps or colonies of the red-brown phase caterpillars can be seen on the trunks of trees.  They fall to the ground, and change into the moths.

Although there are many insects that will consume these caterpillars, (and mice are known to eat the pupa on the ground), occasionally the numbers can be large enough to remove so many leaves that they re noticed.  If the small egg masses or clusters of caterpillars are seen, cut off the infested branches and destroy the young worms to reduce damage. Bt insecticides that kill all kinds of caterpillars are a good choice if applied before they reach maturity (the black stage).  But when numbers are too high or when the larvae are too mature, using a chemical insecticide before they pupate will knock them down and break the life cycle.  Please call us for specific insecticide recommendations.

Farris, M.E., Appleby, J.E. and Weber, B.C.  Walnut Caterpillar. [ Forest Insect & Disease Leaflet 41]. Washington: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, 1997.

Walnut Caterpillar, Datana integerrima  [in: Insects and Diseases of Trees in the South. USDA Forest Service - Forest Health Protection [R8-PR16],1989.]

Send us your favorite garden question by fax (863-763-5901), email ( or just drop it off at the Okeechobee News  office at (107 SW 17th St. suite D, Okeechobee, FL 34974).  The University of Florida - Okeechobee County Extension office will pick out three questions that would be of greatest interest to local residents and publish brief answers in the Okeechobee News.

The questions for today are REAL questions that have been brought in to the Extension office in the past few days.  To continue the column, we need YOUR real questions by Wednesday at 5 PM. Be sure to include your name and phone or email address in case we need more information (We can publish a question as anonymous if you wish).   Clear photographs (digital preferred) may also be submitted, but they might not be able to be returned.  Do not drop by actual plant specimens (unless it is a prize tomato for our salad or a beautiful flower for our office!)  We reserve the right to edit all questions for space. 

More information is available on our award-winning Okeechobee web page, If you need additional information on these problems, please email us at or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  Go Gators! 


Trade  names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean. Last update: 10/06/2008.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert