Insects in Christmas trees and Firewood

Christmas is a wonderful, joyous holiday. Most people really enjoy decorating for the holidays, and put a Christmas tree in their homes. Real Christmas trees are a fun tradition for many families during the holiday season, providing us holiday scent of spruce or pine. Remember, these trees are from nature. Sometimes it can bring too much nature into your homes, such as insects and spiders.

Insects on Christmas trees

It is rare to bring insects into your home on a Christmas tree, but it can occur. The most common pests found on freshly cut trees would be aphids and spiders. Neither of these pests would cause us any harm or populate in the home. They are coming from eggs that were laid on the tree in the fall. Once the tree warms up in the home, the insects emerge, thinking it is spring. Because they are in the home and not outside, these pests will die of starvation or desiccation, drying out.

There are practices in place by the grower to ensure there are no insects on the trees. However, these insects are on the tree as tiny eggs in the field and the growers have many trees, once in a great while an insect may be missed.

Managing Insects from Christmas Trees

Spiders and Aphids will not harm us in our homes. As stated, they will likely die soon after emergence indoors. There really is no need to control them other than hand removal if you see them. It would help to shake out the tree prior to bringing it indoors to remove insects found on the tree.

Insects on Firewood

Fireplace
Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Many people also enjoy a fire in the fireplace for the Christmas season. I don’t have a fireplace now, but growing up, it always made the holiday more festive with a nice fire burning in the fireplace. 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, powder post beetles, carpenter ants, wood boring beetles, and many other insects. 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.

Managing insects in firewood

Insects found in your firewood are not harmful and therefore do not need to be sprayed with any type of insecticide. Do NOT spray insecticides on firewood prior to burning because the insecticide could be flammable or cause an inhalation hazard while the log burns. Insects found in the home can be controlled with sticky traps this time of the year.

The best management for insects in firewood is to only bring wood inside as you need it to avoid insects getting into your home and flying around. Don’t stack wood inside and don’t bring in multiple loads at once. 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.

Gardening Gifts for the Holidays

Now that we are in December, the holiday shopping season has begun. There are only a few weeks left to shop for gifts for our friends and loved ones. If you have a gardener in your family, there are some great gardening gifts you can get for them to help them out next spring.

Tools

gardening-glovesGarden Gloves are essential for any gardener. They help keep your hands from getting torn up when pruning roses or other plants with thorns. Garden gloves also keep you from getting dirt caked onto your hands. In my case, my gloves give the pruners something else to hit before cutting my finger, which is why there is a hole in my old pair. Be sure to get the type of gardening gloves that the gardener on your shopping list likes, there are so many to choose from. I have a very nice pair that are breathable and have a nitrile covering over the palm and fingers to keep my hands protected when working in the garden. I have to have a pair that fits tightly to my hand and that breathes or I will not wear them and then I will have very rough, callused hands with many scratches and wounds. My garden gloves are a must in my garden bag.

anvil-vs-bypass-pruners-michigan-state-univEvery gardener needs a good selection of pruners. Hand pruners work best for pruning small branches on many of our shrubs and to cut back herbaceous perennials. Branches cut with hand pruners should be less than ½ inch or less in width. They also work well for deadheading during the summer months. Bypass pruners are preferred to the anvil type of pruners because they are less damaging to the plant stem when pruning. The anvil type of pruners crushes the stem as it cuts and can harm the plant.

Long-handled loppers are great for making pruning cuts on medium-sized branches, those that are ½ – 2 inches in width. There are many choices in your lopper purchases. Some have a standard length and some have telescoping handles, allowing them to be used higher into the tree or deeper into the shrub. Just like with the hand pruners, the bypass loppers are better than the anvil type.

For larger pruning jobs, a handsaw will be necessary. Again, there are many different types of handsaws you can purchase. I prefer the folding type which is safer and easier to transport because it fits nicely in my gardening bag.

Plants

You may not be able to purchase the plants your gardening enthusiast desires for the holiday season, but you can purchase gift cards. Get them a gift card to their favorite nursery, garden center, or online seed source. This way they can buy the plants they really want this spring.

If this gift giving is to someone who prefers house plants, you should be able to buy those at nurseries now. Or even choose a holiday plant like a poinsettia and they can keep it going for years to come.

If your gardener can’t get out and do a lot of gardening in the ground, containers are always a great gift. There are so many fun colors, shapes, and sizes of gardening containers and they are found at most garden centers year-round. This would add more planting locations to their container gardens.

Helpful extras

A cart is another great gardening tool. There are many types of carts or wheelbarrows that can be purchased and would be put to good use in any garden. If the gardener has an ATV, you can get a trailer cart that they can drive around with the ATV.

Even if your gardener has hoses, there is always need for more. Often our hoses get holes in them or just get old and a new one would be helpful. Maybe your gardener needs soaker hoses to water their garden better. And hose end sprayers and sprinklers can make a great gift to any gardener to help water all of their plants.

Thanksgiving Meal from the Garden

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to remind us of all the things in our lives we can be thankful for and to do so over a shared meal with friends and family. Thanksgiving is a little late for our backyard gardens, and most of us are not thinking about the garden. However it may help you to plan your garden next year so you can plant vegetables to be incorporated into your Thanksgiving dinner next year. There is nothing more fulfilling that eating a meal that came from things you harvested.

Side dishes

There are so many delicious side dishes at our Thanksgiving feasts, often too many to fit on our plates or our appetites. Most of these side dishes can be grown in your garden and frozen or stored for use at Thanksgiving. Sweet corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and one of my favorites, brussels sprouts can all be grown in your gardens in Nebraska. The corn and green beans should be canned or frozen just after they are harvested in the summer months. These products can then be used at the holiday. Brussels sprouts are typically harvested in the fall, they can withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. So they can be grown through the season and harvested fresh to be used in your Thanksgiving dinner. Once they have been harvested, they can be stored for 3-5 weeks at 32 degrees and 90-95% humidity.

Both kinds of potatoes can be grown in Nebraska as well. Potatoes need to be cured in a warm, humid location and then they can be stored at a cooler temperature and stored for multiple months to be used for the holiday as well.

Desserts

Thanksgiving is a great time to have a slice of pumpkin or apple pie. Again, the main portion of these delicious desserts can be grown in our gardens.

Pumpkins are great for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, but not the same type of pumpkin for both. It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. Pie pumpkins are smaller, sweeter, and less watery than jack-o-lantern types of pumpkins, making them easier to bake with.

Apples can be picked from your own tree in your backyard. They can be preserved in multiple ways. People often make them into pie filling and then freeze or can that for storage and easy pie baking later on in the year. Fresh apples store fairly well under home storage conditions for up to 6 months. So they can just be harvested and stored indoors for use in our Thanksgiving pies. Later maturing varieties work best for storage in a basket or box lined with plastic. One bad apple truly can spoil the barrel because apples give off ethylene gas which speeds ripening of fruits. When damaged, that ethylene is given off more rapidly and can speed up the ripening process for the other apples stored with it. Apples will store best around 32 degrees.

So we may not be able to grow all of the parts of Thanksgiving in our backyard gardens, but a good portion can come from our homegrown fruits and vegetables. Keep this in mind when you go to plant your garden next year, what parts do you want to grow in your own backyard to preserve for Thanksgiving. And take time this Thanksgiving to be Thankful for all that you have, I know I am. Happy Thanksgiving!

*For more information on Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, see this NebGuide

Fallen Leaves

The fall is a great time of the year. The trees turn such beautiful fall colors and then those leaves fall to the ground. Tree leaves are fun to play in as a kid, everyone loves the crunch sound under your feet as you walk over fallen leaves. However, leaves shouldn’t be just left on top of our grass like when they fall from the tree. This can be damaging to our lawns and to surface water. So, it is best to utilize them or remove them.

kody-raking.jpg

Why Rake

Leaves should be removed from the turf in the fall. If left on the turf over the winter months they can smother the grass. They can also cause snow mold to develop over the winter. Raking the leaves will allow the turf to dry out on warm days with no snow cover to reduce the chance of getting snow mold.

Leaves can be a pollutant to surface water if left on the ground. Leaves left on the ground can be washed away into storm drains and other surface water locations. Fallen leaves release phosphorus and nitrogen when they decompose. If that decomposition occurs in the water, an overload of nutrients can contribute to impaired water ecology, such as excess algal growth (From Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator in Platte County Extension).

Other alternatives to raking leaves

Raking leaves can be quite a bit of work. As I drive around town, I notice some landscapes that contain quite a few trees, which as an Arborist, I love. However, in those landscapes it would take a long time to rake all of those leaves. And it really doesn’t matter when you rake up your leaves, it seems as soon as you are finished more leaves have found their way to your lawn. An easier way to do this would be to mow the leaves.

According to the UNL Turfgrass Department, mulch mowing can be easier than raking and it returns complex organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Some research also shows that mulch mowing can help control weeds. The weed control is sporadic, but it can be possible. So, this is a very beneficial alternative to raking the leaves. Mowing over the area at a higher deck height two or three times can help break down the leaves and incorporate them back into the turf for added nutrition for the lawn. Just as grass clippings don’t add to a thatch layer in the lawn, mowing over leaves and leaving them on the lawn will not add to any thatch layer in your turf.

Another use for the fallen leaves in your landscape would be to utilize them as a mulch in your gardens. You can bag them up and use them next spring or add them to your compost pile for the addition of carbon that is needed in any compost pile. Or you can rake them up and around your plants and trees for added winter protection. Be careful when you choose which leaves to use as mulch or additions to your compost pile. Leaves that were diseased this year, or had one of the many leaf spot diseases we saw this year, should not be used as mulch or in the compost pile. The compost pile will not get hot enough to kill the pathogens on those leaves and if left as a mulch around the tree, this could just reintroduce the disease to the tree next spring again. For those diseased leaves, it is best to just rake them and destroy them.

Putting the Garden to Bed

Now that fall has arrived and we have hit some very cold temperatures at night, it is time to clean up our gardens for the winter. Some things should be done this fall, but some can be left until spring. Here are a few things to do now to put your gardens to bed. 

Fall Pruning

Annual flowers can be cleaned up in fall because they die with a freeze. Perennials are best left standing until spring but some can be cleaned up now. It is nice to leave the plants over the winter for added interest and to provide food to birds. Plants such as roses and butterfly bushes that have hollow stems should be left standing and not pruned back until next spring. Precipitation can get into the hollow stems and freeze and thaw through the winter, which could crack the plant crown and lead to death. Leaving plants standing through winter will protect plants with hollow stems or with moderate hardiness to our zone. If you do chose to leave your perennial plants over the winter, be sure to wait until we are past our last spring frost before removing the plant material next spring, even if the plants green up underneath. The plant material does act as insulation and if removed too soon the plant will be more exposed to late winterkill. If removing plant material this fall, wait until it turns brown and replenish mulch to protect it over the winter. Mulch can be added up to 4-6 inches over the winter months, reduce back to 2-3 inches deep during the growing season.

People often think about pruning trees in fall. However, this isn’t the best time of the year to prune them. The optimum time for tree pruning is April, May, or June because at this time the tree can seal up the wound quickly while it is actively growing. If your tree needs to be pruned this fall, wait until the leaves have fallen from the tree to allow the tree to go completely dormant before pruning. If you are pruning an oak tree, the dormant period is the best time for pruning to avoid damage from oak wilt. Pruning evergreen shrubs is best done after they are fully dormant to avoid damage from winter injury. As for flowering shrubs, if it blooms in the spring, prune it after it blooms. If the shrub blooms in the summer, bloom in the late winter such as in February and March. 

Garden Cleanup

Now that our vegetable plants have died due to cold weather, it is time to clean up the garden. If any of your plants had disease or insect issues this summer, it is best to remove those plants and destroy them, don’t compost them. This will reduce the chance of seeing the problem again next year. Also, removing the plants from the garden at the end of the season will remove the overwintering site for insects found in the garden. Cleaning tomato cages and fences upon removal will also help remove the disease spores from the garden for next year.

After removing the plants, you may want to till your garden. If you plan to add fresh manure to your garden, that should be added in the fall rather than in the spring. So you can till your garden, add manure, and till it again to incorporate the manure into your garden soil for reduced compaction and improved organic matter content. If you till in the fall, add a layer of mulch to the garden to keep the soil from blowing off site during the winter. Grass clippings from a lawn that wasn’t treated with herbicides this year make a great mulch for the winter. You can till that back into the soil next spring before planting again.

Late Fall Lawncare

The fall is a great time to improve our lawns. We have now passed the correct timing for overseeding lawns, but there are other improvements we can still make. Controlling perennial broadleaf weeds and winter annual weeds can be done in October and fertilizers may be applied if necessary.

Broadleaf weeds

perennial lawn weed collage
Perennial Broadleaf Weeds

Perennial broadleaf weeds including dandelions, creeping Charlie or ground ivy, and clover are best controlled in the fall once the weeds have begun their preparations for winter. In the fall, these perennial weeds will move sugars that they use for energy from the above ground portions of the plant down into the roots to store them for next spring. If they are sprayed during this phase of their lifecycle, they are more likely to take that herbicide down into the roots to be more effective than if done in the spring. Spray these weeds with a 2,4-D product 2 or 3 times from late September through the end of October. Wait to spray after temperatures consistently drop to below 80 degrees so the herbicide doesn’t volatilize in hot, humid weather.

Weedy grasses

2018-04-20 12.52.00
Henbit in bloom in the spring

The fall is not the time to worry about or treat for summer annual weeds such as crabgrass. Those plants that are still alive will die with the first frost and the seed will not germinate until next spring when the weather warms back up again. However, you can treat now for winter annual weeds such as henbit and speedwell. Once they have germinated this fall you can use a 2,4-D product, which can be applied as a late October application both for the winter annual weeds and for perennial broadleaf weeds.

Using pesticides correctly

Remember, when using pesticides always be careful and apply pesticides according to the label. Any material used to maintain a landscape, including fertilizer, sand, or pesticides, can end up in the storm sewer and lead to pollution of lakes, rivers, and streams. In the same manner, even our grass clippings and leaves can pollute our water supply. There are ways to manage our landscapes while reducing water pollution.

The following will help when managing our lawns this fall:

  1. Any fertilizers, pesticides, and grass clippings should be swept back onto the landscape. Using a leaf blower will work as well. The idea is to keep these items on plant material rather than on the hardscape that leads easily to the storm sewer.
  2. Raking up leaves in the fall will also help reduce the amount of leaf debris that ends up in water.
  3. Check your sprayers before using to ensure they are properly calibrated and the nozzles are not clogged.
  4. Thatch layers in the lawn can become a natural barrier to prevent infiltration. Aerate the lawn to reduce the thatch layer to allow lawn products to infiltrate their intended areas.

Fertilizer

As for fertilizer applications, the fall fertilization is the most important fertilizer application for a lawn. However, fall fertilization recommendations have changed over the past couple of years. For a lawn, a Labor Day to mid-September application of slow release fertilizer is still recommended. Apply a granule with 50% slow release nitrogen or less. If additional nitrogen fertilizer is required later in the fall, use a product with a quick release nitrogen in mid-October. We used to recommend Halloween or later for the second fertilizer application and we thought two applications were necessary. New research is showing us that a second application of nitrogen fertilizer may not even be necessary, but if it is, we should move the timing up to more like Columbus Day rather than the typical Halloween time frame. This information is from Bill Kreuser, Assistant Professor and Turfgrass Extension Specialist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Apples

Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples.

Harvest

Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.

To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. For red-fruited cultivars, observe the portion of the apple that faces the interior of the tree. When the ground color turns from leaf green to yellowish green or creamy yellow, the apples are ready to harvest. In yellow cultivars the ground color will become a golden color when they are ready to harvest. You can also taste one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.

Storage

For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. They can be stored in boxes or crates lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. They should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.

Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits, including apples that are stored together. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Damaged and large apples should be eaten or processed first and not stored like the other apples.

Tree Selection

Fall is also a great time to plant a tree. If you are reading this article thinking you should plant an apple tree so you can start to have your own apples to harvest, there are some great choices. One thing to remember when choosing an apple tree for your landscape is to get a variety that is resistant to cedar-apple rust and apple scab. These 2 diseases are very problematic for apple trees in Nebraska and require spraying multiple times throughout the growing season to combat. There are also some varieties that are resistant to fire blight which can also be very damaging to your apple crop and would be a good trait to look for in your future apple trees.

Some good apple tree choices include Liberty, Enterprise, and Freedom which all have good disease resistance for the most common diseases. Enterprise is self-unfruitful and therefore does require a pollinator tree be planted nearby when planting Enterprise. Honeycrisp is a delicious apple that many people want to plant. However, it is susceptible to cedar-apple rust and powdery mildew so you would need to spray for those diseases. It is moderately resistant to apple scab and resistant to fire blight. Honeycrisp is also only moderately strong for tree growth, so it could break more in storms.

*The information on Harvest and Storage came from Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator in Lancaster County.