It is nice to see the flower beds full of annuals like begonias and petunias in yards around the island. The impatiens are noticeably missing this year and last due to a mildew disease which has prompted a warning about planting them again this year. Unfortunately, some voracious flower eaters are also delighted to see the flowers and can cause some unsightly problems in your lovely flower beds.
If you have holes in the flower petals and leaves or it looks like someone stepped on them chances are you have snails and/or cutworms. Both are very active eating and thoroughly enjoying all of the annuals that have been planted.
Snails and slugs have soft unsegmented bodies which exude a slimy, sticky, mucous-like substance. The snail posses a shell made from a liquid which hardens. They retreat into this shell when disturbed. Most of these shells are dull but a few are spotted or brightly striped such as the Everglades tree snails. Slugs and snails have two pairs of antennas on the head. One pair is the sensory organ and the other pair has eyes at the tips. Snails and slugs belong to a group of invertebrates called molluscs. There are over 110,000 species of molluscs, ninety thousand of which are slugs and snails.
Most slugs and snails are nocturnal, meaning they feed at night. So if you’re curious to see these garden pests go out into the garden at night with a flashlight and you’re sure to see them happily munching on your flower petals. During the day they hide in moist dark areas such as under flats and pots. Their damage is often blamed on cutworms or other insects. Their injury is similar to caterpillars ranging from holes in the leaves to foliage eaten completely down to the main stalks. Watch for their slime trails on hard surfaces like walkways and walls.
For organic control you can make beer traps using covers or other low saucers they can get into. The pests will drown in a state of intoxication.
Baits may also be used for control. For best results with baits, apply in the afternoon and wait to irrigate until the next day. Several applications of snail pellets will be necessary for control of all developmental stages as the eggs are unaffected and feeding can be intermittent. Slug pellets are very effective at controlling snails and slugs. Some pellets are colored blue to make them unattractive to birds. They also have snail bait which remains effective even after getting wet.
Good garden sanitation will also help control populations. Remove all extra pruning debris and trash piles which might offer food or shelter to these pests.
Cutworms are large caterpillars which can be up to two inches long. They are greenish-gray to brown and smooth and soft. The cutworm also feeds at night by cutting plants off at ground level. They can be found in the soil at the base of the plants. The adults are large, night flying moths. Cutworms can nip off several vegetable or annual plant stalks in a single night. These are the creatures that make you think someone has taken a walk through your flower beds. There are several species of cutworms in Florida and they are common throughout the year. There are some cutworms that climb plants and eat leaves at night. One of our local snakes, the ringneck, is a great predator of slugs and snails. It is a very small, slim, snake about 8 to 10 inches long. It is black with a reddish, orange ring around the head and the same color belly. If you see this little guy in your flower beds leave him to help you rid your garden of these pests.
Chemical controls include Dylox bait or Thuricide or Seven sprayed on the flowers and stalks in late afternoon.
Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.