Spring Preparations for Lawn and Garden

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We have finally reached March, and the beginning of spring is right around the corner. We don’t want to get out and do too many things in our yards and gardens too early in the year, but there are some things to bring you out of cabin fever. Here is a listing of our usually spring activities and when the best time to do them would be.

We can now begin to start our seeds indoors for transplants into our gardens later in the spring. Remember, we want to wait until Mother’s Day to plant most of our vegetables outside, unless they are cool season crops. You should start things like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and head lettuce indoors about 10 weeks prior to transplanting outside. Other plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be started indoors 6-7 weeks in advance of planting outdoors. Vegetables such as watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and beans should be planted from seed directly into the garden in May. Peas and other cool season vegetables can be planted in the middle to the end of March. The saying is that you can plant your peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, or some say Good Friday. Either day would be fine to plant your peas and potatoes from the middle to the end of March.

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Roses can also be pruned back at this time of the year. The best time to prune roses is February to March or in early spring. When you prune your roses, start by removing all the dead, diseased, or damaged branches.   If it is a dead or diseased branch, cut back at least one inch below the dead area and above a live bud. If there are no live buds, cut the entire cane out. After that, you should prune up to one-third of the older branches and canes.

Other types of shrubs can be pruned next month, in April. Things such as honeysuckle, ninebark, barberry, and burning bush should be pruned in the early spring. To prune these types of shrubs, we should cut out the older canes and ones that are dead. As with roses, we need to make sure that we are only cutting out one third of the plant. If it is a plant that blooms in the spring, such as forsythia, lilac and spring-blooming spirea, we should wait to prune it until just after it has flowered.

Turf can be overseeded or reseeded from the end of March through the beginning of April. Be sure that you are buying certified weed free seed. The best grass choices for eastern Nebraska are either 100% tall fescue, 90% tall fescue with 10% Kentucky bluegrass, 100% Kentucky bluegrass, or 100% buffalograss. Mixes are alright to use in Nebraska, but you want to make sure it is a good mix. If you purchase a mix, avoid any that contain annual bluegrass, ‘Linn’ perennial ryegrass, or ‘Kenblue’ Kentucky bluegrass. After you have mowed one time on the new seed, you can then put your crabgrass pre-emergent herbicide down to control crabgrass for the year. Wait to use 2,4-D products on your newly seeded lawn areas until after you have mowed at least three times on the new turf.


Pruning Fruit Trees in Late Spring

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

Fruit trees can be a lot of work to keep them producing well throughout the growing season. One of the most important activities to do for high production from your fruit trees, is pruning. Pruning is important, but it also must be done correctly to ensure healthy trees.

Pruning of fruit trees is best completed at the end of February and into March, when no leaves are present on the tree. Pruning trees in the spring allows them to heal the wound and put on new growth early in the spring when the weather is more enjoyable and not so hot and dry.

When pruning a tree, do not prune more than one-third of the tree off in one growing season. The tree needs to retain enough leaf area to produce enough sugar to compensate for the loss of limbs. Also, do not cut off branches that are one-half the size of the trunk or larger. This is too large of a wound to leave on the tree; it won’t heal correctly and can lead to decay in the tree.

For basic fruit tree pruning, start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Next, prune out any water sprouts, which are branches that shoot straight upward off of the main branch. After that, remove any crossing branches and those that are growing weakly. Crossing branches can rub on other branches, which can lead to a wound on the branch where diseases and insects can enter the tree. Branches that are growing weakly are those that have a narrow crotch to the adjacent branch or growing closely parallel to other branches. Narrow branch attachments are weak and can easily break in storms, which would cause more damage to the tree.

If the pruning has been neglected for a few years or more, it will take multiple years to get it back to a healthy branching habit. If pruning on a fruit tree has begun at the beginning of the life of that tree, it will be easy to just prune a few crossing or damaged branches and a few small branches for airflow every year to keep it healthy and productive. However, a neglected tree can be brought back to good health with pruning over a few years.

Photo courtesy of Kim Todd, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Photo courtesy of Kim Todd, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

When pruning, be sure to use the correct tool for the job. You can choose between hand pruners, loppers for larger branches, and handsaws for the largest branches. Use the smallest tool you can for the job. If you use a handsaw on a half-inch twig, you may tear the branch and it won’t be able to heal correctly. Also, make sure your pruners are sharp and clean. If you are pruning any diseased branches, dip the pruners in a bleach water solution to reduce the spread of the disease to other trees or throughout the infected tree.

Winter Tree Problems

2015-02-04 09.33.35During the winter months we tend to not worry much about our plants, but a great deal of damage can occur to them during the winter. A couple of the problems we often see in the winter would be sunscald and winter desiccation. Many of these problems may not even be noticed until the spring months and we can help prevent some of them during the fall.

Sunscald is a common problem on young trees and thin barked trees such as maples. We may notice discolored bark, cracks, or sunken areas, in the trunk of the tree and bark falling off of those trees. It is commonly found on the south and west sides of the tree and is therefore also referred to as southwest disease.

Photo by William Jacobi, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Photo by William Jacobi, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

There is no cure for the tree once it develops sunscald, but many trees will heal this damaged area. Because this is an opening in the tree, other problems with insects and diseases can affect the tree. Sunscald is a problem that is easily prevented by using a tree wrap around young and thin barked trees from late fall through early spring. Also, many of our trees that are affected by sunscald are drought stressed, so maintain adequate moisture to your trees throughout the year and ensure that they go into the winter well watered to help prevent sunscald.

Winter desiccation commonly occurs on evergreen types of trees and shrubs. All trees are still transpiring, or losing water, throughout the winter months, evergreen trees are transpiring at a higher rate than deciduous trees. Winter desiccation occurs when the amount of water lost is greater than the amount of water the evergreen takes in throughout the winter months. The branches and needles of our trees will die. The damage from winter desiccation is brown needles out on the ends of branches. However, the damage from winter desiccation will not usually show up in our trees until early spring, so they will stay green through the winter.

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The management for winter desiccation is to ensure adequate watering throughout the entire growing season. Make sure that the tree is well watered going into the fall. Also, water throughout the winter when the ground is not frozen to help the trees through a dry winter, if necessary. Winter watering should occur during the day on days when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above and is only necessary 1-2 times per month until spring. You can prune the dead branches and brown needles off of the tree, but wait until after new growth has begun, so you can see which parts of the branches are dead.


Growing Herbs Indoors

Flickr images courtesy of CC license; Oregano-Amy Gaertner, Sage & Thyme-Alice Henneman

Flickr images courtesy of CC license; Oregano-Amy Gaertner, Sage & Thyme-Alice Henneman

It seems so cold and dreary outside these days with less sunlight and colder temperatures. A good way to keep your green thumb working, and to help keep you away from the winter blues, is to grow herbs indoors. This is a great way to keep fresh herbs for culinary usage throughout the winter and into next spring. Herbs that are typically grown indoors include thyme, sage, and oregano. There are many additional choices for indoor grown herbs to have all winter long.

Indoor grown herbs need to be placed in the sunniest windowsill in your home. They need at least 10 hours of light each day to get their maximum growth. Supplemental light may be necessary to get the full amount of light they need each day, this can be controlled with a timer to make sure that it is turned on and off equally each day. This supplemental light should only be 8-10 inches from the plants themselves to get the maximum light intensity for the plants. Along with the amount of light the plants receive, you should make sure that your herbs are not placed near a drafty location in your home.

Herbs like to be in well-drained soil. You can use potting soil or a soilless mixture, which is actually a growing media that doesn’t contain any soil. soilless mixes typically contain perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss. These three components can be bought separately and mixed by you or they can be bought as a pre-mix growing media. Because herbs like well-drained soil, you need to make sure that you do not overwater your plants or allow them to sit in water. There should be drainage holes in the bottom of the pot or tray that they are planted in. Place the pot in a saucer or some type of dish to catch the extra water, but never leave the plants sitting in a saucer of water. Allow the plants to dry out some between each watering but do not let them get too dry.

Harvesting these wonderful fresh herbs throughout the winter is the best part of growing herbs indoors throughout the winter months. The harvest is quite easy, just snip off stems before they bloom to get the best flavor. The plant will continue to regenerate new growth throughout the entire winter. Remember, fresh herbs are different than dried herbs when used in cooking. Generally, you should use three times the amount of fresh herbs than you would with dried herbs to get a similar taste. The information for this article came from an article by Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator in Lancaster County, on growing herbs, specifically thyme, sage, and oregano.

Photo from University of Illinois Extension

Photo from University of Illinois Extension

Herbs are very easy preserve for use later in the year, either dry them or freeze them. The easiest way to dry herbs is to tie them up in bunches, place a paper bag over the herbs, with holes for airflow cut in them, and hang them upside down to dry. You can also dry them on a tray, or with heat such as with a dehydrator or an oven. You can also freeze herbs by placing coarsely chopped herbs into an ice cube tray with water and freezing them. After they are frozen, you can take the ice cubes out and store them in a plastic bag to use as needed.

For recipes and other instruction on “Cooking with Fresh Herbs” visit the food.unl.edu website, at: http://food.unl.edu/fnh/fresh-herbs


Gage County Master Gardener Program, and Introducing Saline County Master Gardener Program

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

The early part of the year tends to be less eventful than much of the rest of the year. The weather is too cold to go outside and do much gardening and we tend to have to stay inside and find other ways to occupy our time. However, this is a great time of the year to get some education, such as attending the Extension Master Gardener Program.

MG logo

The Nebraska Extension Master Gardener program is a horticulture related volunteer training program based in many counties throughout the state. It has been part of University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension since 1976. Master Gardener volunteers are trained by UNL Extension faculty and staff. They contribute time as volunteers working with their local Extension office to provide horticulture-related information to their community. Participants are required to complete 40 hours of training and 40 hours of volunteer service throughout the first two years of their involvement in the program. Master Gardener volunteers retain their certification through 10 hours of annual training and 20 hours of volunteering each year.

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Each year the Master Gardener program is held throughout the state, including in Gage County. The programs are held from 6:30-9:00pm on Tuesday nights at the Gage County Extension Office. This year the programs run from January 27-March 17. The schedule for the classes is as follows:

  • January 27, Orientation with Nicole Stoner
  • February 3, Waterwise Landscapes and Residential Rain Gardens with Kelly Feehan from Platte County Extension
  • February 10, Pruning Deciduous and Evergreen Trees and Shrubs with Kim Todd from UNL
  • February 17, Insects: Beneficials in the Garden and Landscape and Vegetable Insect Pests with Natalia Bjorklund from Dodge County Extension and Nicole Stoner
  • February 24, Wildlife Damage Management with Dennis Ferraro from UNL
  • March 3, Technology in the Garden and Landscape Photography for Beauty and Diagnostics with Terri James and Jim Kalisch from UNL
  • March 10, Preparing for Emerald Ash Borer: Identification, Management, and Treatment Options and Tree Planting Selections Now and Post EAB with Laurie Stepanek and Amy Seiler from the Nebraska Forest Service
  • March 17, Topic to be determined by the class with Nicole Stoner

This class will additionally be provided in Wilber following the same schedule on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3:30pm. It will run from February 4-March 25 at the Saline County Extension Office.

The cost of the Master Gardener program is $160 for the first year, which includes a book, t-shirt, and nametag. For returning Master Gardeners the cost is just $10.

Pantry Pests

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With winter upon us, there aren’t too many insect or plant issues to worry about. However, there are certain insects that can be a problem in your home any time of the year. One group of insects that can be year-round invaders would be the pantry pests.

Pantry pests, are just as they are described, insect pests that get into our pantry foods. There are many different insects that can get into our pantry items, including flour beetles, dermestid beetles, Indian meal moths, cigarette and drugstore beetles, and others. These pests do not cause humans any harm, other than the gross factor and stress from having them in our foods. The pantry pests that we see are very small and they are found in our cupboards or in the food itself.

Photos from UNL Department of Entomology except Drugstore/Cigarette Beetle Photo is from Barb Ogg, UNL Extension Retired

Photos from UNL Department of Entomology except Drugstore/Cigarette Beetle Photo is from Barb Ogg, UNL Extension Retired

Flour beetles are tiny, reddish-brown beetles with club-like antennae. Dermestid beetles are those tiny beetles that are black with yellow and white spots. The immature dermestid beetles are often found, they look like a tiny cigar covered with small spines. Indian meal moths are the typical small moth you may find in your kitchen. Cigarette and drugstore beetles are tiny beetles, reddish brown, and their head is hidden from above by their prothorax, which is the front portion of the thorax on an insect.

Pantry pests can chew their way into sealed plastic, zip-top bags and boxes. They can be brought home with your food as they tend to get into food at warehouses. Pantry pests typically feed on things including:

  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • Other grains
  • Dog food
  • Cat food
  • Bird food
Flickr image courtesy of Melissa Doroquez per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Melissa Doroquez per CC license

Management for pantry pests is very easy. Clean up your cabinets and store your food properly. You need to be sure that your foods are stored in a glass or hard plastic container with a tight seal on the lid. Because these pests can chew through plastic baggies and cardboard boxes, you may need to remove the products from the container they are sold in and store them in a canister. You can also store many of these grain products in the freezer causing no harm to the product itself. Also, be sure to get a food storage container that has a good seal for any pet foods you may have around your home. This will help with pantry pests and other possible household invaders.

Pantry pests are not choosy with the types of homes they invade. They come into clean and dirty homes alike. Even if you haven’t found pantry pests in your home, it is still a good practice to store your grain products in canisters or the freezer to avoid them coming into your home.


Winter Storm Damage

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With winter coming on strong now, there is the possibility of getting snow any time. We need to know what to do with our landscapes in the event of a large snowstorm.

When heavy snow comes through, it can cause our trees and shrubs to bend down out of their normal form. Many people want to knock the snow off of the trees because they think it is better to get it off of the plant, however it is really better to leave it alone. The snow and ice will eventually melt off of the plants and they will spring back up to their normal form after a while. You can lightly brush snow off of the tree with a broom, if desired.

If the tree becomes covered with ice, this can be more harmful to the plant. If you try to break ice off of a tree or shrub, it can break the branches or crack them, leaving them vulnerable to other problems. Again, the ice will eventually melt off of the tree or shrub and it will be fine.

snow damaged tree-andy rubacky flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Andy Rubacky per CC license

If, at some time during the winter, too much snow or ice comes in and breaks the branches of your tree, care can be done to help with that. The best management practice for helping a tree that has broken branches due to snow and ice would be to go out and trim those branches to make them a clean cut rather than a jagged cut. It is the same thing you would do if they get broken in a storm in the summer. Neither time is the best time to prune a tree or shrub, but it is better to clean up the cut when it happens. Prune out those broken branches to make a “good pruning cut”.

If the tree gets damaged too badly, it may be time to call for additional help from a trained professional. If the damage is high up in the tree or on large branches, you may want to hire a Certified Arborist or licensed tree-pruning company. Also, there may be a time when the damage is too bad, and you may have to think about replacement trees. According to Oregon State University Extension service, the things to think about on whether or not to remove a tree include,

  • How healthy was the tree prior to damage?
  • Are the major limbs broken?
  • Has the tree lost its leader or main upward growing branch?
  • Did the tree lose more than 50 percent of its crown or branches and leaves?
  • How big are the wounds?
  • Are there remaining branches that can form new structure?
  • Is the tree in the most suitable location?

These questions can help lead you to your answer on replacing the tree or not. If it seems the tree already had damage or growing problems, it lost too much of its canopy or very large branches, or it isn’t growing in the best location, then maybe it’s time to move on to a different tree.

Hopefully, we don’t have too many large snowstorms this year that we don’t have to deal with this. I just wanted you all to be prepared for this if it does happen. That way you will know what to do for your tree and what are the best steps to ensure that your trees and shrubs live through yet another tough Nebraska winter.


Winter Preparations for your Lawn

Flickr image courtesy of Jennifer C. per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Jennifer C. per CC license

We are getting to that point of the year where we will have to hang up our shovels, rakes, and pruners. It is almost the time where we can no longer do much yard work for the year. However, there are still a few things we can do quickly before the temperatures get too cold or the snow starts to pile up.

Winter mulch can be applied now, or within a few weeks when temperatures are consistently dropping down to the twenties each night. Winter mulch is the heavier layer of mulch we apply to plants like chrysanthemums and strawberries to keep them from having temperature fluxes in the soil they are planted in. Any plant that may be prone to frost heaving, the plant being pushed up out of the soil by a constant freeze and thaw condition. Plants that were just planted this fall could also benefit from winter mulching. This mulch can be up to twelve inches deep, which is much deeper than we usually advise but is needed for winter protection. It is better to use coarse wood chips, straw, or leaves for winter mulch rather than grass. Remember to pull the mulch out about six inches away from the trunks of trees and other woody shrubs to prevent damage from wildlife, such as voles, during the winter months.

As we prepare for Christmas, we need to remember to care for our live trees throughout the season. Be sure to keep live trees watered throughout the holiday season. If they don’t have water they will dry out quickly and not look as fresh and beautiful. Christmas trees should be placed in your home away from fireplaces, air ducts, and televisions to avoid the heat from these locations. According to the National Fire Protection Association, less than 0.001% of all real Christmas trees have been involved in a fire. A real tree is a great addition to all Christmas decorations, and with proper care, it can last through the season and look and smell nice the entire time.

Another obstacle we might face in the winter that can be harmful to our landscapes would be deicers. Too much salt placed on trees, shrubs, and other perennials can cause severe damage to these plants. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage include desiccation (drying out), stunting, dieback, and leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical.

Bag of Deicer

*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

To avoid damage from the deicers to the concrete:

  • Remove the salt as soon as you can
    • Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away the snow and ice
    • As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed
  • When removing the snow, do it in a manner that protects the landscape plants growing in the yard
  • Do not pile the snow onto trees, shrubs, or flower gardens
    • If it has to be piled onto your landscape, move the salt onto the grass and try to do it in a manner that makes it more uniform on the grass surface
  • If too much salt continually gets piled up on the grass in one location, the turf can be harmed

Where do insects go in the winter?

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

With winter on its way and a few freezes behind us, it leaves us thankful that the mosquitos and other insects have finally quit bugging us for the winter months. But, where do insects go in the winter? Do they all just die? How do they always come right back to my yard, garden, and home next spring? Some insects head south for the winter, others overwinter in the garden, some spend the winter in cracks and crevices outside, and others come indoors to join us in a heated home for the winter.

Many of our ‘snowbirds’ or insects that move south for the winter are the lepidopterans, the insect order that contains butterflies, skippers, and moths. Some of the snowbirds include armyworm, corn earworm (also known as tomato fruitworm) and striped and spotted cucumber beetles. Since these insects do not overwinter in the garden, sanitation is not considered a control method for them.

Many insects overwinter in the garden so cleaning up and destroying plant debris can reduce their numbers. Reducing the population of insect pests limits the amount of damage they cause and provides more control options. Insects that overwinter on plant debris in the garden include cabbageworm, cabbage loopers, and squash bugs. The cabbage caterpillars overwinter as pupae inside cocoons attached to plant debris, usually the host plant. Squash bugs spend the winter as adults hiding in plant debris. This is why it is a best management practice to clean up the garden in the fall and not leave the plants in the garden to harbor insects over the winter months. Some insects will even spend the winter on weeds near the garden. Fall sanitation not only includes cleaning up or tilling under vegetable debris in the garden, but control of nearby weeds as well.

Squash bug-NH-pic monkey

Some of the insects that overwinter in the garden do so in the soil. These insects would include the adults of Colorado potato beetles, the eggs of grasshoppers, and the pupae of squash vine borers and onion maggots. Fall tillage of soil reduces these insects by exposing the insects to colder temperatures. Removing plant debris removes an insulating layer that also protects insects from extreme temperatures.

squash vine borer damage

When cleaning up plant debris, the general recommendation is to not add insect infested plants, diseased plant debris, or weed seeds to home compost piles. Most plant diseases and weed seeds, as well as some insects, are destroyed during composting when temperatures in the pile center reach 140° to 150°F. However, in many home compost piles, it is difficult to mix materials thoroughly enough to bring all waste to the center where it will be exposed to these temperatures.

It is often asked if insecticides applied to bare soil in fall will kill overwintering insects. The answer is not very often, if at all. Overwintering insects are often in the pupal or egg stage where they are protected from insecticides. Applying insecticides to the soil to try and control overwintering insects is not a responsible or effective use of a pesticide.

Many other insects come into our homes during the winter months to avoid freezing temperatures outside. Boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian ladybeetles, and stink bugs move inside in the fall and then leave in the spring. These insects survive the winter in our homes and other buildings. These insects can find places to survive outdoors under leaf litter and in other plant debris, but they are much more comfortable in our homes, as we are. They do not do any damage in our homes and should be vacuumed up or smashed when they are found in our homes.

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

Center photo by S. Cochran, Lancaster County Extension

This article comes from an article written by Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator in Platte County, Nebraska.


Insects in Firewood

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

With the changing of the seasons, we look to the imminent future that lies ahead of us, winter. When the winter winds start blowing, we start preparing our woodpiles for winter stoves to heat our homes throughout the long cold winter. When we do start our piles, we need to decide where to pile it for easiest and quickest access to the home. We also need to take into consideration the insect pests that may lie inside those logs of wood.

There are many different insects that may be overwintering in the wood and some others that are using it as a food supply during the winter months. Insects that may be found in the wood you pile for your wood stoves include:

  • Bark beetles
  • Termites
  • Carpenter ants
  • Wood boring beetles
  • Many more

These insects may not be active due to the cold winter temperatures, but once inside may become active again. Typically, insects in firewood will only be a nuisance pest in your home because they cannot survive in your home.


Termite Colony

Termites would be the most intimidating insect from this list. If you feel, at any time, that you may have termites in your home, or you just are curious, you can call a pest control company to do an inspection. If they find termites in your home, you have a couple of choices of how to control the termites. You can use either bait stations, these can be above ground or in the ground, or you can use a barrier spray. Either of these methods of control have their place; it really depends on the situation. Allow your chemical control company to help you decide which to use.

A couple of tips to remember when making your woodpile for the winter are to not stack your woodpile directly on the ground and only bring in wood as needed. The first tip to avoiding bringing insects into your home with firewood would be to not stack your woodpile directly on the ground. This is an important reminder for any time of the year. This tip is to avoid termite damage. Termites can get into, and feed on, any wood that comes into direct contact with the soil. If you pile wood up against your house with the pile starting directly on the ground, termites can sense the wood pile and work their way through the wood to your home.

Firewood pile

Flickr image courtesy of Steven Severinghaus per CC license

You also should only bring inside the wood that you will be using right away to avoid insects getting into your home and flying around.   Wood boring insects will not come out of the wood and begin feeding on your furniture or any other wood material, but they will be moving around in your home, if you let the wood warm up too much. Wood that remains at a temperature of less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit will keep any insects inside of it at a dormant stage, meaning that they will be overwintering with no real action from the insect. If you bring too much wood into your home at a time, the wood will warm up and the insect could emerge from the wood and move around your home. If you bring only a few pieces of wood into your home at a time, you will be placing it into the fire before the insect is able to emerge and it will die in the fire.

Having a fireplace is a wonderful way to warm up and to save money on the heating bills in the winter time. Just make sure to stack it in a manner that avoids insect entry into our homes.