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Insects and wildlife can be both beneficial and destructive to a yard. Learning to identify and control pests through organic or integrated pest management methods, can be both economical and environmentally-friendly. Below is a listing of frequently asked questions from local residence that may be helpful to you, as well as links to related University of Florida publications and resources.

Can you give me some tips on controlling insects on indoor plants?
First, carefully examine new plants to be sure they are insect-free before bringing them home. Isolating a new plant for a month before putting it with your other plants is good. Always use sterilized soil for potting. Take your plants outside about every two weeks and spray them with a forceful stream of room-temperature water. Do tops and bottoms of leaves to wash off bugs. Inspect your plants on a constant basis, and if none of this helps, use a solution of soap and water (two tablespoons to one-gallon water) and spray them. Make certain the soap does not contain degreaser.

I see butterflies occasionally passing through my yard. What can I do to make them stay?
Keep an area of your yard mowed, since butterflies are most active in open areas. Plant lots of flowers that provide nectar and plants that are considered larva or caterpillar food. Butterflies need a place that is kept moist. Nightly roosting shelter can be provided by planting vines or shrubs. Some species like rocky areas to rest on. A feeder can be made by placing rotting fruit or tree sap on a plate.

How can I tell the good bugs from the bad ones?
There are many excellent identification books on the market. A good book will have lots of pictures, plus a description that includes the areas they are most likely to be found, the different like stages and what they eat. With a good book and a little practice, you should be able to tell the difference between the most common and beneficial bugs.

I have seen a few lovebugs, and I am concerned. Do they bite? Are they destructive?
Lovebugs are harmless. They do not bite or sting, however, when they are hit by your car, their fatty remains can permanently destroy the finish, if they are not removed in a day or two. You can purchase a bug screen to cover your grill. You can travel at night or before 10 a.m. Some people spread a thin film of Baby oil on the hood, the bumpers and above the windshield. This does not keep them away, it just makes removing them easier.

I found some very small worms on my fennel and was going to kill them when my neighbor told me not to. She said they were the first instars of butterfly caterpillar. What are instars?
Instars are the stages a caterpillar goes through. They go through four to seven instars before they change from a caterpillar into a pupa. The caterpillars will devour your fennel before they change, but they will live only a few days and usually leave enough of the fennel for it to survive and grow. If you want both fennel and butterflies, buy more fennel plants than you think you will need. 

The center of my African violet is dwarfed, furled and puckered. What is causing this to happen?
The mite that caused this is too small to be seen with the naked eye, but the skeletons are cast off and can be seen as a gray powder resembling ashes. This is the fearsome pest called cyclamen mite. The best thing to do is to remove three of four leaves for rooting, and destroy the rest of the plant. The leaves for rooting should be dipped in a weak solution of dimite before rooting. Kelthane and cythion are also good miticides. These little mites are transferred from plant to plant by arms and hands (especially sleeves).

What are some ways to control pests on plants?
The easiest non-chemical way is to use a forceful stream of water. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are good, also. Remember, don't use oil in hot weather or you'll burn your plants and shrubs. Bacillus theringensis (B.T.) is great for caterpillars. If you elect to use chemical sprays, make sure you use the insecticide that is recommended for the plant you have, as well as the pest you have. Only use the amount recommended: More is not better.

What insects are best controlled by systemic insecticide?
Small-sucking insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scale, mealybugs, spider mites and lacebugs.

What is dormant oil and when should I apply it?
It's a miscible oil, a safe, easy to use, and very effective insecticide that no bug can develop an immunity to. Its mode of action is very simple. As you spray your plant, preferably from the top down, it coats the twigs and branches, running into little crevices in the bark, quietly smothering any overwintering insect eggs. The eggs cannot get air, they do not hatch and viola! You have just eliminated preexisting problems. 

My camellias have a white cottony stuff on the underside of the leaf. The leaves have a yellow discoloration. What is my problem?
This is an insect called Tea Scale -- the worst pest on camellias. Oil sprays which suffocate the insects or systemic insecticides are recommended.