Pirate Bugs are Everywhere!

Fall is a great time of year, the weather is cooler, the trees are turning brilliant fall colors, and we can enjoy being outdoors. However, sometimes that enjoyment is smashed when insect invaders join our outdoor gatherings. The minute pirate bug is one that shows up this time of the year.

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Minute Pirate Bug photo courtesy of Kim Riggs, Richardson County Extension

Minute pirate bugs are the tiny, black insects that seem to fall out of the trees in the fall and bite us. The bug, which is a true bug, is 1/8 inch in length and black with white and black wings. The appearance of this bug is very similar to a chinch bug. The wings have an “X” on them which is typical for insects that are true bugs.

Minute pirate bugs are present throughout the summer but they are out in fields, woodlands, and gardens. During the summer they are feeding on other insects. They are actually a beneficial insect. Pirate bugs are predatory insects that feed on many insects that cause harm to our plants, such as thrips, aphids, mites, and small caterpillars as well as the eggs of other insects.

Most people wouldn’t notice these pirate bugs if they didn’t land on us and bite us. Pirate bugs bite with a pain that doesn’t seem possible from such a tiny insect. However, some people may not notice the sting at all because the reaction to the bite can differ from no reaction at all to having the area swell up like a mosquito bite. But, in the fall, these insects move into the areas where people are more often outside and they begin to bite us. When they bite us, they insert their piercing-sucking mouthpart into our skin, which can be painful. However, the good thing is that they do NOT feed on blood, inject a venom or transmit diseases.

Because of the painful reaction that most of us receive from this pest, we want to do something to control them, however, control is not practical. Minute pirate bugs are a temporary pest, they are beneficial insects, and most of our solutions would not harm them so there is no reason to try to control them with an insecticide. Using a bug spray will not deter them either because they are not attracted to us by carbon dioxide like most other blood-feeding insects such as mosquitos. So, the best control for these pests would be to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and dark colored clothing or to wait patiently for cooler weather when they will no longer be a problem.

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Photo of Ground Beetle courtesy of Daniel R. Suiter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

And just as a reminder, this is the time of the year when our insect invaders start to move into our homes. Many of the insects and other arthropods that we see every year are things like boxelder bugs, Asian multicolored ladybeetles, ground beetles, centipedes, millipedes, and spiders. All of these do not pose any physical harm to us, spiders can bite but it is rare and usually does not cause much harm. The best controls for these critters would be to use a home barrier spray, sticky traps and to vacuum them up as you see them. These insects and others are moving into our homes with the cooler temperatures to keep warm during the winter.

Fall…Plant a Tree, Clean up the Garden

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Fall is a great time of the year. The heat and humidity has finally been reduced and we can enjoy going back outdoors again. It is a great time of the year for planting to get things in the ground before it freezes and we can start doing other chores in our landscape to keep it looking beautiful throughout the winter months.

Fall is a great time to plant a new tree in your landscape to add fall interest to your yard. When choosing a tree and location in your yard, the first thing to consider is overhead and underground utilities, future construction sites, and the mature size of the plant.  Large trees should be planted a minimum of 15 to 20 feet away from buildings and a minimum of 20 to 25 feet from overhead power lines.  Purchasing a three to six foot tree usually saves money, gets the tree started faster and will outgrow more expensive, larger alternatives.

Health and longevity of the tree starts with good planting practices. First, remove the tree from the container and remove all wraps and ropes around the rootball, including the burlap. Next, shake off the excess soil and find the main rootball. The area where the lateral roots begin should be just below the soil surface. After you have determined the actual size of the rootball, dig a hole twice as wide and only as deep as the roots. Backfill into the hole with the soil that was removed when digging the hole to avoid creating a wall that roots cannot penetrate from one soil type to another. Add a mulch ring to all trees. The ring should be 2-3 inches deep and at least 2-3 feet wide around the tree. The tree can be staked if in a windswept location but the staking equipment should only be left on for one growing season.

With the threat of Emerald Ash borer now in Nebraska, this fall would be a good time to plant a tree as a replacement for an ash in your yard. With Emerald Ash Borer still only in the Omaha area, this portion of Southeast Nebraska doesn’t need to do anything for treatments or removal of ash trees yet. Treatments should not be done until Emerald Ash Borer is found within 15 miles of your tree. However, if you have decided that your ash tree is not in the condition to treat or you don’t want to spend the money to treat it annually, a replacement tree is the next best option. If you start a new tree nearby now, by the time EAB gets here and we have to remove trees, you will already have one started with a good amount of shade provided.

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

Fall is also a great time to get out and clean up our landscape beds. Replenish the mulch around the plants and remove the leaves of herbaceous perennials once they have turned brown in the fall. It is vital to wait until those leaves turn brown in the fall because while they are still green, they are still taking nutrients back into the roots of the plant that will help kick start the plant early in the spring. Wait until spring to cut back roses and butterfly bushes. These plants have a hollow stem and can have more winter dieback if they are pruned in the fall. Don’t prune any spring flowering shrub in the fall or you will be pruning off the flower buds for next spring. Wait until the trees are dormant before pruning them in the fall. If pruned too early, new growth can occur which will be more vulnerable to dieback in freezing temperatures.

What is wrong with my lawn?

What's Wrong With My Lawn blog post

This year has been extremely humid and warm. We have seen a summer full of warm temperatures during the day that cool down in the nighttime to the dew point, which has been causing a high number of turf diseases. We are also now experiencing a great deal of crabgrass and other summer annual weeds in our lawns. These are things that decrease the overall appearance of our lawns but they are not long lasting this late in the summer.

Brown patch is a fungal turf disease showing up in our lawns right now. This disease often shows up in lawns that were overwatered or were fertilized heavily in the summer months as brown patches in an otherwise green lawn. Upon closer investigation, you may notice that the leaves may have long tan-colored spots that are surrounded by a dark brown margin. You can avoid this disease by avoiding over-irrigation and over-fertilization of the lawn.

Summer Patch at Christenson Field, P Hay

Summer Patch on a baseball Field, Photo by Paul Hay, Nebraska Extension Educator in Gage County.

Summer patch is also showing up in our lawns right now. This fungal disease also leaves brown patches in your lawn, but usually they are in a circular pattern with an area of green turfgrass in the center, like a frog-eye appearance. The leaves do not have a distinct marking on them but the roots will be brown. The best control for summer patch is to follow fertilization and watering requirements to reduce the stress to your lawn.

The diseases that we see in our lawns this time of the year are mostly environmental. You can help to reduce the incidence of these diseases if you take good care of your lawn. Keeping the lawn mowed at 2-3 inches high, correct fertility, and correct watering, will help keep your turf healthy and able to compete with these diseases. Fungicides can be used, but they need to be applied as a preventative and are not usually necessary in home lawns. Home lawns can tolerate a low level of damage without the need for fungicides. If this is a problem that is seen in the same location of your lawn year after year, you may need to use a fungicide, but that should be used in the spring or in the summer as the first signs begin to appear in your lawn. At this time of the year, fungicides will not fix the damage that is already seen in the lawn this year. So in the late summer and fall, fungicides are not recommended.

crabgrass, Joseph Berger, Bugwood

Photo of Crabgrass by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Crabgrass and other summer annual grasses are also becoming more problematic now. In addition to the maturation of plants that germinated earlier in summer, incidence has also increased from recent rains and warm weather that allowed more seed to germinate where a sufficient herbicide barrier is not still present, especially in full sun or thin turfgrass canopies. Control is not necessary this time of the year because the crabgrass present in your lawn now, will die with the first fall frost in a few weeks. It is the best environmentally and economically for you to use a pre-emergent herbicide next spring.

Lawn fertilization should occur with the holidays: Arbor Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween. Applications for Labor Day can be done anytime now. Apply 1 pound of Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet on your lawn. Once the temperatures cool down, you can begin using 2,4-D products to combat broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, clover, and henbit. The fall is the best time to treat for the perennial weeds so that the chemical is taken into the roots with the nutrients the weeds have in their leaves that they store in their roots over the winter months. For henbit, it is best to treat this in the fall as well to kill it before it sets seed next spring.