What is crawling around in my house?

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The winter months can really drag out. You can’t go outside and garden and you are stuck indoors. It is at this time that you might start to notice some other critters coming into your home as well. There are a lot of home invading insects and arthropods that use our homes to stay warm through the winter.

One of my favorite non-insects from my childhood would be the roly-poly, which is officially called a pillbug. These arthropods are not harmful indoors and are often found in damp basements. They are also found in potting soil, so if you bring any outdoor plants inside for the winter, you may bring these inside with the plants. If pillbugs are found in your home, just pick them up to remove them from your home or vacuum them up.

Fruit flies are another problem in the winter months. They are tiny yellow flies with red eyes found around the kitchen. They are often found indoors attracted to fruits, vegetables, beer, sodas, and fermenting things in our garbage. These fruit flies are a real nuisance as they fly around us and our food in our homes. For management of fruit flies, it is best to eliminate their breeding locations and food sources. Throw out all fruits and vegetables past their prime for eating and make sure to rinse out all beer and soda cans and bottles before throwing them away. It might also be helpful to just keep your trash in the garage or other location near the house to avoid problems indoors. For those left in your home, you can make a fruit fly trap easily and cheaply. Take an empty container such as a jar or yogurt container and fill the container 1/4 of the way full with apple cider vinegar to attract the fruit flies. Put a few drops of dish soap in the vinegar to make the flies sink as they land on the vinegar and cover the container with a layer of plastic with a few holes poked in with a toothpick to allow the fruit flies in. This will bring the fruit flies in to die in the vinegar which attracts them to the trap in the first place.

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Another aggravating insect pest indoors in the winter would be the fungus gnat. Fruit flies and fungus gnats are often confused, but opposed to the bright colors of a fruit fly, fungus gnats are tiny black flies. Fungus gnats often get into our homes in houseplants or potting soils used indoors. They are not damaging flies, but they can be a real nuisance indoors. To rid a home of fungus gnats, there are many options. Try repotting the plants and allowing the soil to dry out more between waterings. You can also place a yellow sticky card next to the plants that will attract the gnats to kill them in the sticky glue on the card. Finally, you can treat the soil with insecticides labeled for use on indoor houseplants or use a mixture of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and run that through the soil to kill any maggots left in the soil.

Soon we may begin to notice ants in the home or the winged reproductive stages of ants which are common in the spring months. If temperatures warm up for a few days at a time, some ants may even become active in the late winter months. Ants in the home are mostly a nuisance pest, but can sometimes be quite difficult to control. Liquid ant baits or bait stations are the best for control of these pests. Also, be sure to reduce overgrown landscaping outside the home around where the ants are coming in and use barrier insect sprays to reduce their movement into the home.

ants with bait

Information regarding management of Fungus Gnats and Fruit Flies is from Jonathan Larson, Douglas-Sarpy County Extension, from the Acreage e-news Pest of the Month articles.

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Ice Storm Damage to Plants

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Many people do not like winter due to cold weather and the bad driving conditions such as snow and ice. Our plants are not much different in this respect, snow and ice can cause problems to our plants. The recent ice storm we saw covered our trees and shrubs in a thick layer of ice.

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Lawn covered in ice from winter storm Jupiter

As trees become covered with ice, problems can occur. The best way to avoid any problems from a heavy layer of snow or ice would be to let it melt naturally. Heavy snow or ice loads look damaging to the tree which makes people want to knock the ice off of the trees to help 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. 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.

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Shrub covered in ice by 2017 winter storm

Many tree branches broke after the weight of the ice from the last storm proved to be too much. 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. Leaving a break rather than having a clean cut will prevent the tree from naturally healing the wound and this opening will lead to decay in the tree. This is much more damaging to the tree so it is best to prune the tree between the break and the bark collar or hire a professional to do this for you. If your tree split down the middle or lost a great number of branches, it may be time to to think about replacing this tree. It would be best to call a Certified Arborist in this case to assess the damage and give recommendations on the next steps for your tree.

 

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Broken branches due to ice storm, photo by Karen Rahe

Deicers are another plant consideration in the winter. They can cause damage to concrete sidewalks and to plants growing beside them. Many deicing agents contain salt substances, such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Because of the salt content found in these products, it can cause severe damage to our plants if too much is piled on them too often. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage include:

  • Desiccation (drying out)
  • Stunting
  • Dieback
  • Leaf margin and tip damage similar to chemical burns on the leaves

To avoid damage to concrete, remove the salt as soon as you can. Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away snow and ice. As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed, go out and shovel it off of the concrete. 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. If you are very concerned with the effect the deicers have on your plants, you can use alternate products for melting the ice, such as calcium magnesium acetate which contains no salt.

New Year, New Master Gardener Schedule

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Winter is a great time to learn about gardening, since you can’t go outside and actually garden. A great way to learn more about gardening and meet other gardening enthusiasts would be to join the Extension Master Gardener Program.

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 Nebraska Extension since 1976. Master Gardener volunteers are trained by UNL Extension faculty and staff and then volunteer in their community. 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.

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 31-March 21. The schedule for the classes is as follows:

January 31- Orientation– Nicole Stoner

February 7- Plant Diagnostics- Kelly Feehan

February 14- Turf Basics – Bill Kreuser

February 21- Small Fruit Production – Connie Fisk

February 28- Soils Basics – Brian Krienke

March 7- Landscape Design – Elizabeth Killinger

March 14- Shrubs-Nicole Stoner

March 21- Insect Physiology, Pesticides & Pollinators–Jonathan Larson & Natalia Bjorklund

This class will also be provided in Wilber following the same schedule on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3:30pm. It will run from February 8-March 29 at the Saline County Extension Office.

For volunteer service, most of the Master Gardeners in the area participate in management of many of the gardens in your community. Look around the landscapes in public areas the next time you drive around town, there are signs to show which landscapes the Gage or Saline County Master Gardeners help to manage. They do a great job and really help keep our communities looking nice.

The Gage County Master Gardeners have also spearheaded the Seed Library at the Beatrice Public Library which provides free seeds to members of the public as well as free programs throughout the year for education. They also plan the Tomato Tasting Event which has been a successful community event for 3 years.

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2016 Tomato Tasting Event at the Beatrice Public Library

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. Please contact me at the Gage County Extension office at 402-223-1384 to sign up for the program. The deadline for enrollment into the class is January 20, 2017.