Extension staff and volunteers help a customer and share a laugh

Plant Clinic Frequently Asked Questions

Our Master Gardener-staffed Plant Clinics operate at locations across the county, at days and times set up for your convenience. Sometimes, though, you just need a quick, convenient answer. For those situations, we've pulled together for you some Frequently Asked Questions… and their answers, of course. Click on a category listed just below to take you to that section.

Click on a question below to view the answer (show all answers). If you don't find your answer, reach out to our Plant Clinic volunteers by calling 941-861-9807 or emailing to plantclinic@scgov.net.

Master Gardener Plant Clinic

What hours are you open?
The Plant Clinic at Twin Lakes Park is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
What is your telephone number?
941-861-9807
Where are you located?
The main location is at UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, Twin Lakes Park, "Green Building," 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota, Florida 34241 (see a map). We also have satellite locations throughout Sarasota County.
How can I get soil tested?
Bring in about a half-cup of soil taken from a depth of 4-6 inches. We can test for pH and soluble salts. The cost is $5 per sample. For more information, visit our Soil Test page.
Why is my grass suddenly dying?
It could be due to drought stress, chinch bugs, fungus, mowing too closely, or a number of other environmental or cultural factors. Contact the Extension office for assistance.
What can I do to get rid of the weeds in my lawn?
The best way to control weeds is through prevention. A thick, healthy lawn tends to crowd out weeds and prevent them from becoming established.
What is the FYN program?
The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program, instituted through the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service. The FYN program teaches and encourages Floridians to practice Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ using nine basic principles. Contact the Extension office for further information.
Can someone from the Extension office come to my yard?
Unfortunately, this service is not available.
What is the best variety of turfgrass to use?
There are several types of turfgrass that are available. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages based on your particular soil and landscape requirements. Contact the Extension office for further information.
Why did my tree, which has been in the landscape for several years, suddenly die?
It could be due to any of several factors. It may have originally been planted too deeply, or the planting hole may have been too small. Death may also be attributed to stress from environmental factors such as prolonged drought.
Is Spanish moss killing my trees? They seem to be dying.
Actually, it is probably the other way around. Spanish moss is a harmless epiphyte. As trees begin to slowly decline and die, the canopy opens up allowing more light to enter and foster the growth of Spanish moss and other air plants.
There is an area of my yard where everything I plant dies. Could there be something wrong with the soil?
Most likely the plants are dying due to a cultural problem such as too much or too little water.  The plants may have been installed too deeply or the root balls may not have been loosened before installation.
What is the best variety of orange tree to plant?
This depends on whether you would like a juice orange or an “eating” orange. Tangerines and tangelos are also popular for eating or juicing. Some trees bear in the fall and others in the mid-season or the spring.
The leaves on my orange tree are falling off and the tree looks dead. What can I do?
If there are no green buds on the tree and all the wood is dry and brown underneath when scraped with a knife, the tree has likely died from stress due to the extended drought.
My palm tree appears to be dying and has mushrooms growing out of the base. What can I do?
Unfortunately, the palm is dying from a common fungus disease called ganoderma. The best course of action is to remove the palm and root ball as soon as possible and never plant a palm in the same spot again. Fungal spores can linger in the soil for years. Any type of tree other than a palm can be safely installed in the same place.
My mango tree has never produced any fruit. What could be wrong?
Your tree may not have been grafted. Grafted trees normally begin producing fruit after 3 to 5 years. Non-grafted trees can take twice as long to bear fruit.

Insects and Pests

What can I do about chinch bugs?
Again, a healthy lawn tends to be more resistant to chinch bugs than one that is under stress. Judicious use of pesticides can also control chinch bugs before they have a chance to spread.
Small yellow-green worms are defoliating my snowbushes. What can I do?
The snowbushes are being attacked by spanworms which can defoliate a plant in short order. Spray the snowbushes with a pesticide containing B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis), as directed on the product label.
My yard is crawling with small bugs which are red and gray in color. Are these bugs harmful?
No, you are describing the harmless Jadera bug which feeds on the seeds of golden-rain trees.
There is a black fungus growing on some of my plants. What can I spray to kill the fungus?
The black “sooty mold” is actually growing on the droppings of piercing-sucking insects such as aphids, mealy bugs, or scales. The insects can be killed by spraying with a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of mild liquid dishwashing detergent and 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil mixed well in a gallon of water. The sooty mold will gradually flake away once the insects are dead.
A pine tree on my property is being killed by borers. What can I spray to kill the borers and save my tree?
Unfortunately it is the other way around. Borers are attracted to trees that are under stress and dying. While sprays may temporarily reduce the population of borers, the tree is dying and cannot be saved.
What can I do about pink hibiscus mealybugs?
This introduced pest is highly resistant to all insecticides. Do not spray. Call the Pink Hibiscus Mealybug Helpline at 888-397-1517 for information on obtaining natural predatory insects that will attack and control the mealybug population.
I am finding tiny ants in my kitchen and bathroom. What is the best way to control them?
Use a liquid ant bait containing borax. Ants will carry the sugary bait back to the nest and feed it to the other ants which will soon die. Be sure to follow the label directions carefully.
There is a nest of bees in one of the soffits of my house. What can I spray to get rid of the bees?
Because of the danger of being stung or the possibility that the bees could be Africanized, the University of Florida recommends that you have a pest control company safely remove bees. 
The newly emerged fronds on my pygmy date palms are covered with a whitish, waxy substance with tiny reddish brown spots embedded in it. One palm has already died. What can I do?
These are the symptoms of red date scale, an introduced insect pest that has been killing pygmy date palms state-wide, particularly those growing in lanai plantings or shaded locations. Contact the Extension office for further information and recommended treatment.
The undersides of the fronds on my king sago are covered with a flakey, whitish substance. Many of the fronds are dying. What is this problem and what can I do about it?
This is Asian cycad scale, an insect which has killed many king and queen sagos in Florida. It can be controlled by spraying regularly with a light-weight horticultural oil. It is also advisable to periodically remove as many of the dead scales as possible with a strong spray of water from a garden hose.

Wildlife

How do you tell a bobcat from a panther?
There are fewer than 100 wild panthers in Florida, making them the rarest endangered species in North America. The fastest way to tell a panther from a bobcat is the size. A mature bobcat weighs only about 35 pounds. A juvenile panther goes from 60 to 150 pounds. Bobcats are tawny with spots and a bobbed tail. Young panthers may have spots but have long tails. Adult panthers have no spots and can be as long as seven feet from nose to tail. For more information on panthers, see our endangered species page.
What do I do if I come across a large predator?
What you do depends upon which predator you cross paths with. First, do not run. If you come across a bear or a a panther, stand still. Do not approach the predator in any way. Make yourself appear larger by raising your arms. Make eye contact. Do not squeal or scream. Use a firm strong voice to make sure that the predator sees you as soon as you see it. Throw rocks, sticks or even your backpack if you have one. Panther and bear sightings are rare and there has never been a confirmed attack on humans by a panther in Florida. However, if you are attacked, fight back by whatever means you have. Visit our large predator page for more information and links.
What is an invasive species?
Invasive species are any non-native plant or animal that enter our ecosystem. The importation of plants and release of exotic animals into the wild are just two of the ways that these invasive species take root in Florida. Over the past 200 years or so, more than 50,000 foreign plant and animal species have become established in the United States. About one in seven has become invasive, with damage and control costs estimated at more than $138 billion each year. For a list visit our invasive species page.
Who can I call if I have a racoon or other wild animal causing problems on my property?
If it is a domestic animal such as a cat, dog, or livestock, you should contact your local county animal control office. For Sarasota County, call 941-861-5000.

Alligators are considered a nuisance when they are more than four feet in length and are determined to be a threat to the welfare of the public, or the public’s pets, livestock, or property. If you need to report a nuisance alligator, call toll-free, 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286).

If the situation involves a wild animal, such as a raccoon, opossum or snake, the law allows landowners to take nuisance wildlife under certain conditions. You also may give permission to another individual to take nuisance animals for you. Consult the FWC's list of Nuisance Wildlife Trappers that Operate in Your County. Most trappers will charge a fee for their services. For more information on wildlife, see our Wildlife pages.