February 28, 2008

Timely Tips for March – Part 2

By Andy Wilson, Pinellas County Extension, Horticulturist

This winter has brought us many warmer than average days as well as one night of below freezing temperatures that damaged some kinds of plants. March marks the end of the danger of any plant-damaging cold and many plants will be producing lots of new growth now. Here are some lawn and garden tips for March.

aphidsAphids- As plants begin to produce new growth over the next several weeks, aphids may become a problem. These sap feeding insects feed on the soft, succulent new growth and are usually found in masses. They are pinhead-sized and may be green, black, orange or other colors depending on the particular species of aphid. If aphids are noticed, look also for predatory insects that may be feeding on them, the most common of which are the lady beetles or “lady bugs.” If these beneficial insects are found, there should be no need to spray for the aphids. If spraying is needed, light horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are among the least toxic materials.

Vegetables- Vegetables gardens need a regular supply of nutrients to produce well. Most commonly this is done by applying granular fertilizers like an 8-8-8 analysis. Usually at least 2 or 3 applications (in addition to the fertilization that is done at planting) will be needed during the growing season. For more information see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide here:

Bananas- Bananas should be fertilized about every other month with a fertilizer that contains twice as much potassium (the third number in the fertilizer analysis) as it does nitrogen (the first number). Bananas are heavy feeders in general and usually should be fertilized every other month. Many banana plants in the area suffered damage in the early January cold wave and adequate fertilizer will supply nutrients that are needed to produce new growth and eventually fruit. More information on growing bananas can be found here:

Lawn Fertilization- The ideal time to make the first application of fertilizer on lawns is about 2 weeks after the lawn begins to show signs of fast growth after the slow growth of the winter. The grass roots are then ready to efficiently pick up the fertilizer. A 15-0-15 or 15-2-15 is suggested. At least some of the nitrogen in the fertilizer should be in a slow release (water insoluble) form. This information will be shown on the fertilizer bag.

Azaleas- Azaleas can be pruned, if needed, once flowering has finished. If the mulch around them has mostly rotted away, apply more so that the mulch is about 2 to 3 inches thick. Although there are exceptions, azaleas as a group are not the most drought tolerant plants and mulching will help to hold moisture in the soil.

Palms- One of the most important parts of the care needed to keep palms healthy and attractive is proper fertilization. Research done by the University of Florida has established that an 8-2-12-4 analysis fertilizer is best for palms. The nitrogen, potassium and magnesium should be in a controlled release form. It should also contain the micronutrients iron (about 1.5-2%, 0.1-0.2% if in the chelated form), manganese (about 1.5-2%) and trace amounts of zinc, copper and boron. Some nurseries and other outlets in the area are carrying this fertilizer. The fertilizer should be broadcast evenly throughout the area under the canopy of the palm. Applying the fertilizer in this way is much more effective than using fertilizer spikes or punching holes in which to apply the fertilizer. If there is turf within 50 feet of palms it should be fertilized with the same palm fertilizer, not a high nitrogen turf fertilizer. High nitrogen, low potassium fertilizers can induce severe and sometimes fatal potassium and magnesium deficiencies if they are applied anywhere near palms.

More information on fertilization of palms can be found here:

More information on nutrient deficiencies of palms can be found here:

February 27, 2008

Timely Tips for March – Part 1

By Andy Wilson, Pinellas County Extension Horticulturist

This winter has brought us many warmer than average days as well as one night of below freezing temperatures that damaged some kinds of plants. March marks the end of the danger of any plant-damaging cold and many plants will be producing lots of new growth now. Here are some lawn and garden tips for March.

Cold Damaged Plants- Cold damaged woody plants can be pruned now. New growth may be already emerging, making it easier to determine where the wood is alive, if there is any wood that was killed by the cold that needs to be removed.

Pruning Hibiscus- Even if they were not seriously damaged by cold this winter, now is a good time to prune hibiscus if needed. New growth can be expected to come out quickly after pruning. Use sharp tools of the proper size for the size of the branches you need to remove. Hand pruners are used for branches less than ¼” diameter and pruning saws are used for larger branches. More information on proper pruning methods can be found here:

cannasCannas- Cannas are easy to grow in Florida. Prized for their large, showy flowers borne at the ends of the stems, they are also valuable in the landscape for their bold green, maroon or variegated leaves. To keep the plants growing vigorously it is helpful to lift the thickened rhizomes from the soil, prune away the older, depleted parts and replant them. This can be done now. Cannas should be fertilized about once a month. More information on growing cannas can be found here:

Leaf Drop- Over the next several weeks many broadleaved evergreen trees and shrubs will drop varying amounts of old leaves. Usually the leaves will discolor to some extent before dropping. This kind of leaf drop is common on Southern magnolia, hollies and many others. This is a natural process, and doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the plant.

oak leaf blisterOak Leaf Blister- Soon after the new leaves of laurel oaks and water oaks appear this spring you may see puckered spots in the leaf tissue. Some of the affected leaves may drop. This usually is an indication of oak leaf blister, a common fungal disease of oaks. Although spraying beginning when the new growth begins to emerge can be used with varying degrees of success to control the disease, it is usually not worth the trouble and expense to do this. The disease is strictly cosmetic and does not threaten the real health of the tree. Live oaks, with their more leathery leaves, have little problem with oak leaf blister.

Mangos- Continue spraying mangos with a copper fungicide once a week until all the fruit has set, then continue spraying once a month. This will help to control anthracnose, a very common disease that can attack the flowers, small fruits and new leaves.

Stay tuned until tomorrow for more tips on aphids, bananas and palms, plus other timely gardening information.

February 26, 2008

What’s Blooming in Our Gardens?

By Dale Armstrong
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

It wasn’t that many weeks ago that the Jet Stream delivered an Arctic blast to our area and damaged many of the cold sensitive plants here at Pinellas County Extension/Florida Botanical Gardens. Walking around the gardens this week I am amazed at how quickly everything has recovered, aided no doubt by the unseasonably warm weather of late.

Loads of colorful blooms are already popping throughout the gardens. Even the azaleas will soon be in the peak of an early bloom.

BrunfelsiaI snapped photos of a few interesting subjects to share. One incredible bloomer is Brunsfelsia spp., a shrub commonly called Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow. Interestingly, it is in the same family as tomato, potato, and eggplant. The Brunsfelsia will simultaneously have purplish, lavender, and nearly white blossoms. The flowers change color over a period of a few days, thus having multiple colors all on one plant. I never quite understood the common name…seems to me “Today-Yesterday-and-Day-Before-Yesterday” would be more descriptive. After all, wouldn’t “Tomorrow’s” bloom be just an unopened bud today?

bromeliadAnd then there are the Bromeliads; so diverse, and so beautiful. We have such a large collection here, representing hundreds of species and cultivars of the Bromeliaceae family, that it is easy to enjoy a multitude of bloom varieties most anytime of the year.

Knock out rosesThe large beds of “Knock-out®” roses are also impressive right now. If you are a fan of roses there are two rose gardens here for your enjoyment.

Don’t forget to check out our newest butterfly garden near the entrance to the Extension office. Plants were selected to attract a multitude of butterfly species, so there is always something interesting to see. We have a couple of strategically placed benches so you can relax a while and see what drops by.butterfly garden

University of Florida fact sheets:
Brunfelsia grandiflora, Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow
Growing Roses in Florida
Getting Started in Butterfly Gardening

February 22, 2008

How Dry is Florida?

By Dale Armstrong,
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of southwest and central Florida is under severe drought conditions. The entire 16-county Southwest Florida Water Management District area is in a Phase II Water Shortage. I think we all can agree that rainfall in our area of Florida has been way below normal for quite some time. All we have to do is look at our suffering plants and grass to confirm that.

However, it is rare that we have an opportunity to actually observe the impact of these dry conditions in a swamp. Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. My wife and I had the pleasure of joining folks from the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society on a visit to Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park a few miles southeast of Naples. This was our second visit to this fabulous linear swamp forest, and we wondered with the on-going drought whether we would actually get our feet wet on this “swamp walk”.

During our first visit in April of 2006, well into the current drought we are experiencing, the deepest portion of the slough we traversed had water that was knee-high. We were told then that the normal water level in that section of the strand is about waist deep on most folks.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State ParkWhat we observed on this most recent trip is that in that same slough there is now no water. In the accompanying photo you can see that the high-water marks on the pond apple are indeed about waist level of the individual standing just in front of the tree. Beyond the slough we came upon a pond that has now shrunk to just a couple of gator holes in the deeper areas. When you see the effects of drought on Florida’s natural areas and realize the impact this has on these ecosystems it really opens your eyes.

Local restrictions imposed on our use of sprinkler systems may be frustrating when we are trying to keep our landscapes looking nice and green. But, since we need to conserve what water supplies we have for more critical uses, restrictions on water used for landscape purposes can certainly be understood. Let’s all make a commitment to conserve this valuable resource, not only for our use but also for the benefit of Florida’s natural areas as well.

Local information about outdoor and indoor water conservation may be found at:

February 21, 2008

Many Marine Habitats

By Betty Lipe, 4-H Educational Instructor

Source: Aquatic and Marine Ecosystems a Leaders’ Activity Guide by the
Florida 4-H Youth Development Program.

Florida is a unique state. We are surrounded on three sides by water, so as members of the community we need to be especially aware some special areas.

What are wetlands? Wetlands are areas of land that are covered with water for any length of time, from a week to the entire twelve months. Some examples of wetlands are swamps, marshes, and wet prairies. Most wetlands contain freshwater, but some like salt marshes contain saltwater. There are many threatened and endangered species of plants and animals that are dependent on wetlands, such as the wood stork, Southern bald eagle, Florida black bear, and the Florida sandhill crane.

Why are wetlands important? They are the sponge in our habitat. They catch the rainwater and allow it to percolate into the Florida aquifer. They furnish habitat for the young of many species to grow and develop, and they also provide recreational areas.

Here in Tampa Bay, we are also concerned with the coastal ecosystems. We have three of Florida’s four major types of coastal ecosystems right in Pinellas County. Beach/Dune/Barrier Island Ecosystem, Estuary, and mangrove swamps. Just to our north, begin the Salt Marsh ecosystem, which continues up through the Big Bend area of Florida.

The Beach/Dune/Barrier Island ecosystem is the most dynamic of the habitats. This area changes constantly with the action of wind, tides and currents. Nature has shaped and reshaped the coastline of Florida throughout history. Recently human habitation has, in many areas, altered the cycles of sand movement, dune development, and created beach erosion to the point where beach renourishment has to be done. Luckily the West coast of Florida because of the smaller Gulf of Mexico and the shallow slope out to the continental shelf make our coast a low energy wave area. The East coast is noted for high energy waves.

Tampa Bay is one of the largest estuaries on the west coast of Florida. Estuaries are water areas where saltwater and freshwater meet. The West coast of Florida alone has approximately 2.5 million acres of estuarine habitat that includes open water, salt marshes, and mangrove swamps. Two important factors related to the biological characteristics of estuary ecosystems are the diversity of habitats and the high productivity of the associated food webs. Habitats within the estuary include sandy bottoms, sea grass beds, oyster bars, and mud flats. These habitats provide living areas for over two thirds of the commercially important fish and shellfish. High nutrient levels in estuarine waters provide a rich “soup” that nourishes plants and animals.

Florida mangrovesTampa Bay is the northernmost range of the mangrove swamp ecosystem. This is due to sensitivity to freezing temperatures. Mangroves can reach a height of 80 feet, hence the name mangrove forest. Mangroves help to buffer the storm waves and winds and provide protection to inland areas. Mangroves also protect the estuaries they border by filtering the runoff that flows into the estuaries from upland regions. By trapping sediment, mangroves actually build land while the roots and vegetation help prevent shoreline erosion. The mangrove prop roots create a maze-like “nursery” beneath the water where young crabs, shrimp and small fish such as snook and mullet can swim, but the large fishes that prey on them cannot. The prop roots also provide a place for oysters, barnacles and anemones to attach while birds like the top of the trees as roosting sites. Today mangroves on public and private lands are a protected species because of the good they do for the ecosystem.

4-H members through the Marine Ecology Event and the 4-H Afterschool program “Walk on the Wet Side” have a chance to learn and study about each of these important ecosystems. 4-H members also have the opportunity to participate in a state wide competition to test what they have learned through study, field trips, and meetings.

Pinellas County Marine Teams at the 2007 State Marine Ecology Event held in Kissimmee, Florida

Pinellas County Marine Teams

2007 State Marine Ecology Event held in Kissimmee, Florida.

February 20, 2008

The Economic Impact of Pinellas County 4-H Youth Development

Janet Golden, 4-H Program Leader
By Janet Golden, 4-H Program Leader

According to Richard Lerner from Tufts University, “Enough data has been gathered and analyzed to share statistically valid information that not only proves that 4-H youth development programs strengthen and improve communities, but also youth in 4-H are more likely to thrive and succeed than those who are not in 4-H.”

Lerner’s 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development (PYD) found that:

  • 4-H youth are 41% more likely to contribute to themselves, their families and their communities, compared to youth in other activities (28 percent) or no activities at all (17 percent).

  • Youth in 4-H programs are more likely to be civically engaged than other youth.

  • Involvement in 4-H increases a young person’s potential of doing well.

  • 4-H reduces the likelihood that young people will engage in risk behaviors, such as underage drinking, smoking, bullying, etc.
Pinellas 4-H programs target specific youth development life skills as outcomes for young people. How effective has 4-H been in helping youth develop skills? These are the five life skills integrated into almost every 4-H program or activity:

By providing youth ages 5-18 in Pinellas County opportunities to learn leadership, citizenship, and life skills through postive youth development experiences, economic benefits are significant.
  • The cost of incarcerating a youth for one day is $159 (average stay 13 days). 4-H is able to provide intensive youth development programming to over 7,500 youth a year which potentially saves taxpayers $15.5 million in incarceration costs.

  • The cost of underage drinking to the state of Florida is $2,383 per year for each youth in the state. 4-H potentially saves the taxpayers $18 million dollars by providing youth opportunities to develop citizenship, leadership, and life skills.

  • In 2007 4-H volunteers (youth & adult) contributed 13,841 hours of service to the community with a value of $260,000 to the community.
For more information about the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development at Tufts University :

February 19, 2008

It’s Time for Spring Clean-up in the Landscape

Pam Brown,Urban Horticulture Extension Agent By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

The end of February and into March brings much warmer weather and plants in our landscape start to spring forth with new growth. This is the time of year when we want to refresh the landscape by removing any damage that was caused by cold weather, cleaning up leaves and other plant debris that collected under plants during the winter, planting annuals for spring and summer, and applying a fresh layer of mulch.

pruningNow is the time to look at those plants that were damaged by the recent freeze that we had in most parts of the county. Plants that lost their leaves should be sprouting now. Prune these plants back to healthy sprouting buds that are growing to the outside of the plant by making pruning cuts at a slight angle about ¼ inch above the bud. Some plants may be only sprouting from the base or roots of the plant and you will need to prune the stems back to this growth area.

Cleaning up leaves and other plant debris that have fallen to the ground and removing diseased leaves and fruit is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to manage many of the leaf-spotting, powdery mildew, bud and flower blight, and canker fungi. This is because many of these fungi overwinter on plant debris. When this fungi produces spores, wind, irrigation and rain can disseminate them to other areas of the garden or landscape. Camellias and azaleas are susceptible to petal blight causing the flowers to turn brown and rot prematurely. All fallen buds, flowers or petals should be removed from under the plants as soon as possible. On camellias especially, if buds or flowers turn brown on the plant, remove as soon as you notice them. Keep your trash can or bag near by to avoid carrying infected debris across the yard.

Contaminated tools can also contribute to the spread of disease. Tools used to prune plants infected with witch's broom, canker, gall and other diseases should be disinfected after each use by dipping the cutting surfaces in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Rubbing alcohol (70%) from the drug store will also work and does not require diluting. Disease can also be carried from plant to plant on hands. So, it is very important to disinfect your hands or gloves. Wash hands well, or you may want to carry into the garden with you some of the gel hand sanitizer that is now available.

In perennial beds, remove old flower heads, stalks, and any diseased plant parts. Examine roses for dead canes and remove them. Examine the shrubs and trees in your yard for dead branches or branches that are crossing and rubbing other branches. Prune these branches out. Pruning paint is not recommended to cover wounds made by pruning cuts.

GaillardiaIf you planted annuals in the fall, such as impatiens, snapdragons, petunias, or geraniums, you may want to prune them back a bit and add some balanced slow release fertilizer. Gazania, Marguerite Daisy, Marigold, Nicotiana, Pentas, Salvias, Dianthus, and narrow-leaf Zinnia are some good annuals to plant in March for color through spring and into the summer. Gaillardia is a really drought tolerant flower that can be seeded directly into the ground near the end of March that will give you drought tolerant flowers all summer long. If you have shady areas where you want some color; Caladium bulbs have wonderful leaf colors.

When all of your clean up efforts are finished, put down a fresh layer of mulch. Be careful to keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the base of plants and not more than two to three inches deep. It is not necessary to remove old mulch beyond raking up diseased leaves and plant debris. Old mulch continues to decay, releasing organic matter and nutrients into the soil.

After clean upOnce you have finished with your clean up – spruce-up activities, you are then ready to sit back, relax with a glass of iced tea and enjoy your handiwork – until those first weeds start showing up. A beautiful garden takes a lot of work, but I think the results are worth the effort!

February 15, 2008

4-H is Looking for Teens!

By Beth Tobias, 4-H Extension Agent

In case you did not already know, volunteering as a young person has proven to benefit your life in a variety of ways. It not only builds valuable work skills, these experiences also offer leadership opportunities and is a great way to meet new friends. You can check out other benefits at Youth Service California,

4-H youth volunteers Eric and Matt

Now that you know all that, how can you possibly turn down this exciting invitation? 4-H has many ways to get involved beyond your club. They include being part of the Tech or Healthy Living Team, or serving on one of the various boards such as 4-H Foundation, Community Grants Board, or 4-H Advisory.

You can log onto the 4-H site for more details on any of the opportunities. So grab a friend and get involved, make a difference!

4- H website:

February 14, 2008

Getting Started With Water Lilies

By Michael Pettay
University of Florida/IFAS Extension Educator

For most water lilies to be happy your pond should be in an area where it will receive 5 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily and where it doesn't have tree branches hanging over it. Also, if the pond is large enough, it's best if it has a shallow area, with a water depth of between 4" and 8", and a deep water area of at least 24". It's best to plant pond plants into pots, tubs or boxes rather than directly into the bottom of the pond. It makes it easier to keep the pond clean and individual containers can be moved around as needed or taken out for replanting, trimming or fertilizing.

Water lily pondWater lilies tend to grow horizontally, so larger containers are best. A single lily will easily take up a single 18” plastic basket or terra cotta pot, or containers can be made of non‑treated wood to hold several. A box 36" x 18" x 12" will hold two lilies relatively close together, if you have colors that you want to complement each other, and won't take up that much space in the pond.

Mix up a good, rich garden soil or topsoil with a well rotted or composted manure. If you're using packaged cow manure be sure to let it rot first. It's better to use a good soil without the manure than to use manure that is too fresh. Mix at the rate of four parts soil to one part manure. Fill the container about half way with this mixture, then add 1/8 cup ( 1 oz. ) of a packaged water lily fertilizer for each gallon of pot size or add one aquatic plant fertilizer tablet for every gallon of pot size. Mix the fertilizer well with the soil, then fill the remainder of the container with garden soil only to about 2" from the top.

How you actually plant the lily rhizomes depends on whether you are using tropical water lilies or hardy water lilies. (Actually the roots of hardy lilies are rhizomes and the roots of tropical water lilies are tubers) Tropical water lilies grow more symmetrically, so they would be planted upright in the center of the container. The flowers of most tropical water lilies tend to sit up out of the water on long stalks. Hardy water lilies tend to grow horizontally, out across the container, so it's even more important that you have a large container. Those you would plant with the end furthest from the point where the leaves are emerging against the side of the container so that the lily will grow across the container. The flowers of most hardy water lilies tend to float right on the surface of the water. Firm the soil around the roots, leaving the crown (where the roots and stem connect) just slightly above the soil line. Add about 1" of pea gravel or aquarium gravel over the top of the soil to prevent it from floating up.

Carefully lower the completed planting into the pond until the top is about 6" to 8" under the water. Water lilies start best in relatively shallow water and can be moved into deeper water once they are established. The ideal depth is between 12" and 18". If the pond is deeper than that you can rest the container on bricks or cinder block or, if you are building your own wooden containers, you can just add legs to bring the upper edge to the proper depth.

The most common causes of failure with new water lilies are planting too deeply or using too much fertilizer. The plants won't be able to utilize fertilizer until they are established and actively growing. Once they are established, lilies are heavy feeders, so they will be wanting fertilizer about every three months. This can be done without disturbing their roots by making little packets of 2 to 3 ounces of packaged water lily fertilizer wrapped in newspaper and gently pressing them into the soil, or by pushing 2 of the fertilizer tablets into the soil for each plant. Remember that some of the tropical water lilies will go dormant during the winter when the water temperature falls below 65 F.

For related fact sheets see:

The Home Lawn & Garden Department provides solutions to citizens for all types of lawn and garden questions. With the backing of research base information from the University of Florida our staff of horticulturist offers sound expert advice to walk in customers as well as through phone calls and e-mail.

February 5, 2008

Volunteering, It Just Might Make You a Little Healthier!

Beth Tobias

By Beth Tobias, 4-H Extension Agent

That’s the word on the street according to a study released in May of 2007 by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually.

According to the report:
  • A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.

  • Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.

  • A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.

  • An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.

  • Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.
    To view the full report visit

4-H Youth Program

Although the study focused on 65 and older it is never too young to start. According to the December 2006 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service growth in volunteering is at a 30 year high with the growth being driven by three primary age groups: older teens (16-19), mid-life adults (46-64), and older adults (65 and over). By getting started as a youth, it will become part of your lifestyle as well as set the example for the younger generations.

Pinellas County Extension believes in the benefits of service and has been fostering volunteerism through the Master Gardener and 4-H Youth Development Programs for many years. Now 4-H and Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) are following the same model and have created a Master Nutrition Volunteer Program. This is the first program of its’ kind in the state and has received so much interest that the first training is full, but plans are to offer it again before the end of the year.

The program is designed to train volunteers in general health and nutrition and in return they will give back 75 hours of service to the community through assisting with 4-H and FCS programs. All of the volunteers participate in 40 hours of training where they will learn the content, activities, and techniques of facilitating programs. Extension programs will reach more people in more places, community residents will receive critical information to live a healthier life, and the Master Volunteers will be a little healthier through their contributions to the community. It’s a win, win situation! For more information about the Master Nutrition Volunteer Program please contact (727) 582-2122 or online at

February 4, 2008

To Buy or Not To Buy

By Margaret Deller
4-H Youth Development Educational Instructor

“Ethical consumerism may be loosely defined as the practice of purchasing products and services that actively seek to minimize social and/or environmental damage and the avoidance of products deemed to have a negative impact on society or the environment.”

According to market research:

  • The average youth has two shopping experiences a week.
  • 54% - 63 % of parents admitted that their children were active participants in shopping for cars.

  • Youth between the ages of 5 and 14 have a direct buying power of more than $40 billion and influence $146 billion worth of expenditures every year. Most of the guidance they receive on how to spend this $186 billion is from marketing.

Every day the youth are bombarded with messages to buy things. The ads are on the radio, TV, billboards, and almost every website they visit. Ads make up the bulk of magazines and newspapers. Even books have an “also available from this publishing house” section in the back. These messages say your life will be better; you will look better, feel better, be cooler, be richer, be smarter, and more famous, if you just buy this item. The overwhelming amount of consumer goods available and the advertising that goes with them has made our youth very consumeristic: youth have a preoccupation with and an inclination towards the buying of consumer goods.

4-H is changing this for the next generation of adult consumers. By training youth to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to each purchase we are helping them shop smarter. Consumer Choices ContestEach year the Florida 4-H office picks four products that youth purchase and creates a study guide to help the youth decide how to buy them. The youth compare product features, cost, how it is made, where it is made, applicability to a given situation, and even packaging.

Some of the studied items are needs; food, clothing, and shelter. But most of the items are wants; things you can live without. This year the youth will be learning about sports drinks, work-out wear, digital cameras, and bicycle helmets. The youth attend workshops on each topic and then test their knowledge in April at the Central Florida Fair 4-H Consumer Judging Contest. For the contest, the youth are given a situation and four products to choose from. They must rank those items from best to worst for that situation. Half of their score comes from a scantron recording of those answers, the other half from oral reasons. In oral reasons the youth must explain their selection to a judge. Even if their ranking is wrong the youth can score highly if their arguments are sound.

If you would like your child ages 8 - 18 to participate in this year’s workshops please contact Margaret at 727-582-2263 or The weekly workshops will be held in Largo starting March 10th and in St. Petersburg starting March 11th.,

Webster’s Dictionary