September 23, 2009

Don't Get Spooked!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s October Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions.

Be sure to check out our lunch break on-line classes, Solutions in 30. Each week this month you will learn or rediscover ways to make your office Greener

Solutions in 30:
October 7th - Cutting Waste at Work
October 14th - Green Purchasing
October 21st - Chemical Hazard Reduction
October 28th - Energy Conservation

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
October 3rd - Best Management Practices

Lawn & Garden:
October 20th - Rain Harvesting Workshop
October 28th - Compost Happens

Sustainable Living:
October 15th - The Basics of Climate Change

You can register for classes on-line at Please look for the “Online Class Registration” button on the right hand side near the top of the page.

September 22, 2009

Mold Happens

Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

For those of us who love sunny days and sandy beaches, Florida is the perfect place to live, work, and play. Not only does Florida provide one of the best environments for water and sunshine loving people, it also provides the perfect place for mold to live, work, and play.

What is mold?
Mold is a type of fungus. It needs warm temperatures, moisture and nutrients to grow and thrive. In order for mold to reproduce, it must produce spores. These spores are released into the atmosphere and are circulating almost all the time. This means, the risk of breathing in these spores is high.

Mold is a fact of nature. Implementing the following four control measures will help minimize mold problems:

*Temperature Control - Keep your indoor temperature below 77 degrees. The optimum temperature for mold growth is between 77 and 86 degrees.

*Moisture Control - Moisture can originate from outdoors and indoors.
o Although you can not control outdoor sources, you can make sure water spills are dried immediately or within 24-48 hours.
o Consider the relative humidity (RH) level. Keeping the RH level below 60% is best. You can purchase a budget-friendly ($10-$50) RH meter from your local home improvement or hardware store.

*Particulate Control – Mold, like any living organism, needs a nutrient source to survive. Soap scum, dirt, and organic materials found in paper products provide a smorgasbord for mold. Dusting, vacuuming with a HEPA filter and cleaning with environmentally preferable products frequently will keep the particulates under control.

*Ventilation – Introducing outside air into your interior spaces is an option if the nighttime temperature outside is 55 o F or below. Check your local forecast. If you live in a naturally humid climate, use air conditioning.

Moisture Removal
Alternating between cycles of heat and air conditioning will help take the moisture out of the air.

*Use 80 o F for the heat followed by two to three hours of 65 o F air conditioning. Continue repeating the alternating cycles until optimum indoor air quality is achieved.

*Dehumidifiers can be used. See the Energy Star chart below for a quick operating reference.According to Energy Star “Dehumidifier capacity is usually measured in pints per 24 hours and is determined by two factors: the size of the space that needs to be dehumidified and the conditions that exist in the space before dehumidification. Use the chart below to estimate the capacity you are looking for.”

Condition without DehumidificationArea (Sq. Feet)
Moderately Damp (space feels damp and has musty odor only in humid weather) *1014182226
Very Damp (space always feels damp and has musty odor. Damp spots show on walls and floor.)1217222732
Wet (space feels and smells wet. Walls or floor sweat, or seepage is present.)1420263238
Extremely Wet (laundry drying, wet floor, high load conditions.)1623303744

* Numbers indicate the capacity in pints per 24 hours. Read the label to determine what capacity you will need based on the area.

Tips for Rooms in the Home

*With all the shampoos, conditioners, body washes and skin exfoliating products we use it is important to clean and dry our bathroom surfaces. The residue and soap scum buildup provides a buffet for mold and mildew

*To keep the relative humidity low, take cooler showers. This can also help to reduce the amount of energy required to heat the water for that must have hot-shower.

*Identify and repair leaky pipes
*Wherever water comes in contact, apply caulking to keep the water out. Such areas would include around the perimeter of the sink.
*Consider louvered doors to allow the flow of air.
*Moisture absorbing material such as desiccants can be used. However, it may not be practical if high humidity is a problem in the rest of the home.

According to the experts, homeowners should check their water heater, washing machine hoses, and bathroom tile grouts for water leaks. These are the main three areas for water damage in the home (Lankarge, 2003).

For Renters
Report all leaks to the appropriate personnel-building owner or manager. Although there are no federal standards for mold or mold spores to measure compliance, sampling can be done to ensure adequate removal and remediation. Sampling should follow the guidelines issued by a professional organization such the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Moisture Control in Your Home. Part 1: The Basics. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3256

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Moisture Control in Your Home. Part 2: Room by Room. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3257

Hyun-Jeong, L., Pearl, V. (2007). Basic Mold Prevention. UFIFAS EDIS publication FCS3255

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Energy Star

September 14, 2009

Toxic Plants

Jean Field, Extension Specialist, Horticulturist II

Poisonous plants have been on the planet since time began, providing us with properties used in medicines and poisons alike. Our contact or ingestion of poisonous plants can cause varying results from a minor skin rash or itchy eyes to difficulty breathing, coma and even death.

How can people and their pets be poisoned by plants?

*Eating plant parts: seeds, roots, flowers, bark, sap, leaves
*Touching plants, their leaves, sap, seeds, flowers, etc...
*Inhaling the pollen from blooms or smoke from burning plants
*Cooking food on the branches of poisonous plants
Let’s take a look at some of the more common plants found in our landscapes that are poisonous to us and our pets.

Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) One of the worst invasive exotic plants in central and south Florida, the Brazilian pepper causes more damage than simply choking out native ecosystems. Contact with this plant produces a rash similar to its cousin, Poison Ivy. When it blooms, it causes breathing difficulty in some people. The rash can cause inflammation of the eyes and face. Pruning the plant while in bloom is especially irritating. Eating the berries can cause vomiting and stomach irritation.

Cycads: King Sago (Cycas revoluta) is a favorite palm-like plant that is popular in Florida landscapes. Female plants produce red seeds and, if eaten, can cause bloody diarrhea, coma and paralysis. A local veterinarian explained how dogs that eat Cycad seeds go into liver failure. If eaten by humans, seeds of all Cycads are highly toxic and protective gloves should be worn when handling them. Crushed seeds have been used as a fish poison in Australia, the native country of these Cycads.

Lantana (Lantana camara) This popular butterfly-attracting perennial contains poisonous compounds in all parts of the plant, especially the leaves and green berries. A reported death of a child in Tampa resulted from eating the green berries. Handling the new leaves cause a skin rash in sensitive people. Livestock and pets are vulnerable to poisoning from eating leaves, stems and fruit.

Oleander- (Nerium oleander) I am always thankful when new residents to Florida ask me about the toxicity of the Oleander as this showy plant is quite deadly. Always keep children and pets away from eating any part of this plant! Eating one leaf can kill an adult human and children may be poisoned by carrying flowers around in their mouths in play. Skin rashes can occur on sensitive individuals who come in contact with either the green or the brown leaves. Deaths have occurred in people who roasted food on Oleander stems. It is a beautiful and tough plant for the landscape that should be used with extreme caution.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) A great source of wildlife food and brilliant fall color, Poison Ivy has driven many a hiker to an itching frenzy after brushing against the leaves. The oily sap found in all parts of the plant spreads easily by either direct or indirect contact. Direct contact results from touching the plant. Indirect contact, perhaps the trickiest to avoid, comes from touching animals or clothing that have sap on them. Touching someone’s gardening gloves or their clothing can transfer the Poison Ivy sap to you. Itching and swelling may appear in a few hours to a few days. Approximately 25% of people are not susceptible to poisoning from Poison Ivy, but repeated exposure may cause sensitivity. Eating of the berries and leaves has caused stomach upsets and even death. It’s a good idea to learn what Poison Ivy looks like, especially as a seedling, so you can avoid it at all costs.

Yellow Allamanda (Allamanda cathartica) This ever-blooming plant can be found in either vine or shrub form. The spiny, porcupine-like round seed pods are poisonous if eaten and the white sap can cause skin rashes in sensitive people. If you plant this beauty in your garden, be sure the non-sensitive person does the pruning. Keep fallen seed pods out of the reach of pets and young children

Protect your pets: Make a list of the plants in your landscape to determine if they are toxic to you and your pets. If you are unsure, contact us at the Pinellas County Extension: 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo (727) 582-2110 or check the web resources below. A local veterinarian described the symptoms of plant poisoning in pets: “Most of our plant poisonings are due to ingestion. Symptoms include vomiting, anorexia, yellow mucous membranes (gums, whites of the eyes) and lethargy”.

If you suspect someone has been poisoned, immediately call the local Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. Their website contains information on poisonous plants, insects and snakes.
Post this information on your refrigerator to have it in a pinch.

We may not be aware that many plants in our own back yards have toxic properties. Until you know if you have toxic plants, keep pets and children from eating suspect leaves, seeds, fruit and other plant parts. Wear long sleeves when pruning or carrying vines and branches to protect your skin. A little research up front can prevent itching, burning and the potential of severe illness from affecting your family and beloved pets.

Printed Materials Referenced:
Cycads, David L. Jones, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993
Guide to the Poisonous and Irritant Plants of Florida, Fl. Extension Service, Circular 441
Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States, Florida Extension Service
Poisonous Plants around the Home, University of Florida, Bulletin 175D

Web Sites Referenced: