Natural Resource Agent
Many Florida residents find unknown plants growing in their yard, unknown bugs in their houses or gardens, and apparent diseases on what were previously healthy plants. So what resources are out there to help you turn the unknown into known?
Your local Extension office should be your first point of contact for helping you identify any mysterious problems or species in your home or yard. You can call, e-mail, or visit the office in person.
Lawn and Garden Help
We offer walk-in Lawn and Garden Help Desk services at the following locations:
- Pinellas County Extension Office
12520 Ulmerton Rd., Largo, FL 33774
Walk-In Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-5pm (excluding holidays)
- Pinellas County Master Gardener Plant Clinic
Palm Harbor Library
2330 Nebraska Ave., Palm Harbor, FL 34683
Wednesdays from 10am-2pm, January through mid-November
Lawn & Garden assistance is also available by phone at (727)582-2100 and then Press 1.
Hours of Operation: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday
9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm
When you do, have or send the following:
- Photographs (digital or snapshot) or a physical sample if you are making an in-person visit.
- As detailed a description of the organism or disease symptom as possible (e.g., where and when you saw it, behavior, any others present, how long it has been occurring, the type of damage).
There are thousands of insects in Florida, and knowing whether the one you found is harmless, beneficial, or damaging is key for deciding on control measures. The Insect ID Lab can analyze insect samples sent by Florida residents. The Help Desk can provide answers or information on preparing a sample to send to the Insect ID Lab. The lab will charge $8 per sample sent.
Send samples in a crush-proof container with the accompanying submission form (205KB pdf). Sending samples in flat or padded envelopes is discouraged.
Collecting a Sample
- The more specimens included in a sample, the better.
- In most cases, you should kill and preserve the insects before sending them.
- Do this by placing them in the freezer or in a vial with rubbing alcohol.
Caterpillars will not preserve well in an alcohol solution. Moths and butterflies should be kept dry.
- Take special care if you believe the insect could be a new or exotic species.
You can either bring in a physical specimen of the plant (or blossom, leaf, etc.) or a photograph to the Help Desk. Multiple photographs are best, with pictures of leaves, bark or stem, blossoms, seed pods, as well as the whole plant itself.
In addition to the pictures or sample, pass along as much additional information as possible:
- Size and shape of plant, leaves, blossoms, seeds.
- Growth habit and location.
- Conditions in location (e.g., sun, soil type and moisture, cultivated or forested area).
- Colors of plant and blossoms.
UF/IFAS Extension offers multiple plant diagnostic clinics and labs, which make up the Florida Plant Diagnostic Network. These diagnostic clinics use living-plant samples to make disease diagnoses.
An important note: once a plant is dead, our Extension professionals are unable to make a disease diagnosis. Harmful fungi and bacteria are present in all Florida soils, and many secondary bacteria and fungi will start to grow on a dead plant. These two factors make it impossible to determine what, if any, disease killed a plant.
Contact your county's Extension office for help and information on preparing a plant or turf sample to send to a diagnostic lab. The lab will charge $40 per sample sent. (Certain disease tests are no charge.)
Send properly packaged samples with the accompanying submission form. Sometimes what you believe may be a disease is only a nutrient deficiency. Your local Extension agent can advise you if it would be worth testing your soil before doing a disease analysis. (Find more information from the Extension Soil Testing Laboratory.)
Collecting a Sample
General guidelines include:
- Take samples before applying pesticides.
- Make sure samples are living (green).
- Include a large amount of plant material that covers the range of the symptoms.
- Do not mix different samples in the same submission bag.
UF/IFAS Extension offices are your source for answers to your questions and solutions for your life. Wildlife was not covered in this guide, but any identification questions or problems you have can be answered by our offices if you give them enough information.
An e-mail, telephone call, or visit to your local Extension office is your first step in identifying any plants, pests, animals, problems, or curiosities you encounter.
Adapted and excerpted from:
L. Buss, Insect Identification Service (RFSR010), Entomology and Nematology Department (rev. 3/2010).
N. Williams, Plant Identification and Information Service (RFSR013), Extension Administration Office (rev. 12/2011).
A. Palmateer, et al, Sample Submission Guide for Plant Diagnostic Clinics of the Florida Plant Diagnostic Network (RFSR007), Plant Pathology Department (rev. 9/2012).