Firewood

Fireplace
Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

This winter has been exceptionally cold and full of snow and wind. With cold winters, our heating bills go up. One way many people try to spend less heating bills is to use wood burning stoves and fireplaces to supplement the heat inside our homes through the winter months. However, if the firewood is stored incorrectly insect issues can develop inside our homes.

Firewood Storage

Firewood should only be brought into the home as it is needed, only a few pieces at a time. Many insects lay their eggs or pupate within trees prior to or just after they have been cut down for firewood, the insects may still be inside the wood when you bring it indoors. When the wood warms up in your home, the insects can emerge. These insects rarely cause an infestation in your home or cause damage to your furniture or home structure, but can be a nuisance when they get into your home.

Be careful of how you stack your wood outdoors as well, to avoid problems with termites. If you stack your wood directly on the ground outdoors up against your home, you may be providing a highway for the termites to move from the ground to your home. The best practice for stacking firewood would be to stack it on a rack made out of steel or another material other than wood. Also, don’t stack your wood so that it is up against your home, shed, garage, or other building that termites can move into.

Insects in Firewood

carpenter ant
Carpenter Ant Photo Courtesy of UNL Department of Entomology

Carpenter Ants are commonly found in decaying wood. They do not feed on wood, but they dig into decaying wood to form galleries for their nests. Carpenter Ants are the large black or red ants often found on trees with decay because they are making a nest within that tree. In a house, carpenter ants can do damage if you have a leak which has caused wood in your home to decay. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. Longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles are all found in trees and logs cut for firewood. Females of these beetles are actually attracted to dying, freshly cut, or recently killed trees to lay eggs on the wood. These beetles can emerge in your home, but don’t usually cause problems in the wood products found within your home.

One common structure-infesting pest, a powderpost beetle, can get into your home, but they only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that has been varnished, painted, or sealed is safe unless exposed surfaces appear.

Using Wood Ash in the Garden

Another issue I see with fireplaces is in the garden. People use the wood ashes on their gardens because the old saying is that it is good for the soil. It is true that wood ashes can be used on the garden, however, if the ashes are applied too often or too heavily it can damage the soil or plants growing in it. Ashes will raise the pH in the garden, making it more alkaline. However, in Nebraska soils it is not necessary to raise our naturally high pH. Adding nutrients to make the soil pH too high can be harmful for plant growth. Most Nebraska soils have a pH of 6.5 or higher and Illinois Extension recommends avoiding using ashes in your garden with this pH level. It is best to first get a soil test to know where your levels and your pH are at before you add ashes, or any fertilizer, to your garden. If you could benefit from ashes, only apply a little to the garden and use the rest in your compost pile where the nutrients can be beneficial.

Pumpkins, Spiders, and Mums

Halloween Pumpkins

Now that October is here, we begin to get prepared for Halloween, a day which I personally enjoy. Pumpkins, spiders, and fall flowers are all part of this festival. So, I won’t miss the chance to help you with your holiday decorations and traditions.

Pumpkins

2017-10-28 19.10.50Pumpkins can be used for so many things including carving, decoration, pies, and many other food products. If planted later in the summer growing season, your pumpkins should just be maturing, or have matured within the last couple of weeks. If you are unsure, pumpkins are mature when the rind is hard and can resist penetration from a fingernail.

Pumpkins do need to be harvested prior to a hard frost. They can be ok out on the vine for a light frost, but a hard frost will damage the pumpkin and can damage storage potential and more likely cause the pumpkins to rot. They should be cut off the vine. Do not cut the vine too close to the pumpkin, this can also cause the pumpkin to decay sooner.

If you didn’t grow the pumpkin yourself, check over the pumpkins you are purchasing. Look for good rind with no puncture wounds. Ensure that the pumpkin has a bit of stem attached to the top and choose the correct pumpkin for the use you have in mind for it. Pie pumpkins are best for baking while jack-o-lantern types will be better for carving and for decorations.

Spiders

Wolf Spider, UNL ENTO
Wolf Spider photo by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology

Spiders always come to mind at Halloween as a decoration and because they become a problem inside our homes with the cool fall weather. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. These are one of the largest species of spiders that we will find in Nebraska. They are quite hairy and often times will have 2 white or lighter brown colored stripes down the back of the spider. There are some wolf spiders that can be the size of a half dollar or more, legs and all. These spiders are not poisonous, but they can bite. Most often, a wolf spider will not bite us, but if they do the reaction is usually similar to a large mosquito bite.

Spiders are actually beneficial, but not often desired. They feed on other insects and pests that can move into our homes. The best way to control a spider population indoors is through habitat modification, meaning to seal up all cracks and crevices in your home foundation and around windows and doors to ensure that the spiders don’t move into your home. You can also use the indoor/outdoor barrier sprays to spray around the foundation of your home and around the windows and doors to reduce spider populations inside your home. Also, sticky traps are a great way to manage spider populations indoors. 

Mums

orange mum, pixabay

Mums are not the scary holiday tradition that spiders and pumpkins are, but they are a common decoration for the fall, including Halloween. Garden mums grow up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide and grow into a clump. The flowers are 2-3 inches across and can be found in many colors including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, coral, and deep burgundy red depending on the variety. Mums need to be pinched back in the early summer to help keep the plants to a compact and uniform size and shape and to help flowering. Pinching should be done 2-3 times in June. It should begin when the plants are 5-6 inches high and it should be discontinued around the 4th of July.

Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

Biting Insects

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Now that Fall is officially here, the weather is starting to cool down and we can venture outdoors more. Activities such as Hiking, harvesting, hunting, football, and just enjoying the cooler weather on your patio in the evening are all pleasant outdoor activities this time of the year. However, when we venture outdoors, our plan is never to be the menu for all the pesky insects outdoors.

Mosquitoes

mosquitoMosquitoes are out in full force right now. After the rains we have seen over the past couple of weeks, their population has exploded. Mosquitoes can transmit many diseases, so it is best to protect yourself when you are outdoors. Use Insect repellent and wear long sleeves and long pants or permethrin-treated clothing when outdoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most prevalent.

As far as chemical control, Mosquito Dunks contain the active ingredient bacterium, Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis (Bti), which is toxic to mosquito larvae when consumed, but non-toxic to humans, pets, pollinators, fish, and other wildlife. They are sold in hardware stores, and will dissolve in standing water such as water troughs, fishponds, rain barrels, and birdbaths. They are effective immediately and can last for a month. For homeowners, it is not recommend to use foggers or adulticide treatments. These treatments are not effective for more than a couple of days and should only be used a few days ahead of a large outdoor get-together if absolutely necessary. At this point, it would be best to just wait for a frost to kill off the majority of our mosquitoes. Our average first frost date is the end of September to the beginning of October, so one should be here soon.

Minute Pirate Bugs

minute-pirate-bug-zoomed-kim-riggs-richardson-co
Minute Pirate Bug

Minute pirate bugs are also a nuisance right now as well. Minute pirate bugs are the tiny, black insects that seem to fall out of the trees and bite us during the fall months. The bug, which is a true bug, is 1/8 inch in length black insect 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, making them a beneficial insect. 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. Some people may react differently and swell up from the bite, but most people just have the initial pain with the bite. Minute Pirate bugs do NOT feed on blood, inject a venom or transmit diseases. Control is not practical for them as they will also die with our first frost. Insect repellents do not deter them, so it is best just to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to reduce areas for them to bite us.

Ticks

lonestar tick, lifestages, J. Kalisch
Lonestar tick life stages, Photo from Jim Kalisch and Wayne Kramer UNL Department of Entomology

Ticks are also still a problem this late into the season. Ticks are common in wooded areas or in tall grass. If outdoors in areas where ticks are commonly found, wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and closed toe shoes to reduce exposed areas where ticks can attach to your skin. Also, use insect repellents any time you are outdoors, the repellents with DEET have the highest efficacy. One tick I have seen recently is the immature form of the Lonestar Tick. This immature form is very tiny in size and would be easily missed by a quick visual inspection. This tick can spread diseases if left to feed on you long-term, so be sure to protect yourself prior to going outdoors and check yourself when you come indoors.

Attack of the Beetles

JB Damage
Damage from Japanese Beetles

This year, like always, we are facing insect issues in our lawns and gardens. It is important to remember that not all insects are bad, in fact the majority of all insects are beneficial in some way. However, when they are found in large populations or damage our plants, or both, we get concerned.

 

Soldier Beetles

Soldier Beetle
Soldier Beetle, Photo from Soni Cochran, Lancaster County Extension Assistant

Soldier beetles are common this year. These are the yellow beetles found in large quantities throughout the area this year. They are often confused with fireflies because they are both beetles without hardened elytra, like many other beetles, and they are similar in appearance. The soldier beetle we are seeing is golden in color with a black spot on each wing on the back. They are commonly found around Linden trees as well as many other flowers. There is no need to control soldier beetles because they are great pollinators and will not harm our plants or us.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetle, 7-16 Acreage
Japanese beetle adult on the left side and grub on the right side, photos from Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology

Japanese beetles have been more of a problem for southeast Nebraska over the past couple of years than they had been in the past. This is an invasive insect from Japan. Japanese beetles are problematic insects as both larvae and adults. The larvae are a type of white grub which feed on the roots of our grass, causing large brown dead spots in the turf that are easily lifted up like a rug from the floor.

Adult Japanese beetles are 7/16 inch-long, metallic green beetles. The elytra, or wing coverings, are copper. As adults, Japanese beetles feed on over 300 species of plants including trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, field crops, weeds, and other ornamental plant species. Some of their favorite food plants are roses, lindens, and grapes. Adult beetles feed on the foliage, flowers, and fruits of these plants. They feed on the upper surface of the leaves and cause a skeletonized pattern to the leaf where the veins of the leaf are often left behind but the rest of the leaf is chewed away. In some cases, they will consume the entire leaf. This can stress the plants, and in high populations of beetles can even kill the plant.

Grubs can be controlled with chlorantraniliprole or imidacloprid in June. Adults can be controlled with systemic insecticides such as imidacloprid or dinotefuron around Mother’s Day to give the products time to get throughout the trees and shrubs being treated. Currently, no systemic insecticides can be used on Lindens though, due to the damage to pollinators. Tempo and Bayer Advanced Lawn & Garden Multi-Insect Killer (cyfluthrin), Ortho Bug B Gone (bifenthrin), or Sevin (carbaryl) would be a few other options that can be used on Lindens and others. These options will only work for about 2 weeks so they may need to be reapplied.

Blister Beetles

blister beetles, K. Jarvi
Black and gray blister beetles, Photos by Keith Jarvi, Emeritus Extension Educator

Blister beetles were a real problem in our vegetable gardens last year, and they are back. Blister beetles are ½ inch long, powdery gray colored beetles with black antennae. They can feed on our tomato plants as well as some other vegetable crops. They can damage our plants, but they are also beneficial because they feed on grasshopper eggs. If you find them in your garden, you can treat with general insecticides such as sevin or eight. Be careful handling these beetles, some people develop blisters after handling them.

Butterflies…Everywhere

Butterflies blog

As a nature-loving person, with major interests in plants and bugs, I love going outside in the warmer months of the year to enjoy all the plant and insect life outdoors. One of my favorite things to view would be the butterflies. I love the unique coloration patterns and flying abilities of butterflies. This year there is a bit of an increase in population of one particular butterfly, the painted lady butterfly.

The painted lady butterfly is a pinkish-orange butterfly with black blotches on the wings. The forewings have a white-spotted, black tip. This butterfly has a wingspan of 2-2.25 inches. They are often confused with monarch butterflies but painted ladies are more pinkish in color, not striped, and are smaller than the monarch.

Painted lady, Whitney Cranshaw, CSU, Bugwood
Painted Lady Butterfly, Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Painted lady butterflies are being seen this year in quite large numbers. Many of the callers are just curious as to why there are so many butterflies on the gravel roads or if these butterflies will do any damage to their plants. Some callers are just curious why the populations seem so large this year. These are all great questions as this year, the population is quite a bit higher than other years.

Painted ladies are one of the butterflies in the nation that migrate through Nebraska every year from the south and they do not overwinter here. This year there is an abundance of painted ladies in the south. The high population has built over many years of ideal conditions for the development of painted lady butterflies in the south. The weather has been less harsh and there is an abundance of host plants there, as well, to help increase the population. This higher population coupled with the wind currents this year have led to a very high population moving through Nebraska late this summer.

Painted Lady underside, N. Stoner
Underside of a painted lady butterfly

As a butterfly, the painted lady is a pollinator insect and therefore is beneficial to have around. So, the butterflies will not damage our plants they will in fact help us. However, as a caterpillar, they do feed on some of our crops. It seems there is an abundance of host plants for them this year so it looks like we could face one to two more generations of the painted lady butterflies in Nebraska this year before the frost occurs. The butterflies we are seeing now are laying eggs on different plants, including soybeans, that will emerge into caterpillars. When that happens, those caterpillars could feed on the leaves of soybeans as well as our vegetable garden crops. However, it is NOT recommended to apply pesticides to control adult painted lady butterflies, instead just watch in your fields and gardens and treat the caterpillars if necessary.

So, the abundance of these butterflies is a good thing for our pollinated plants. Remember only a couple of years ago we had a very high population of the periodical cicada, it is just another reason that nature is so unique and so enjoyable. All insects go through periods of increase and decline in their populations, it is mostly dependent on environmental conditions as well as food and host plant availability. Enjoy the butterflies while they are here, we don’t usually get to see so many all at once.

What’s that green beetle…

Green Beetles Blog post

All plants are wonderful. However, it is highly unlikely to find a plant that has absolutely no insect problems. This year we have been seeing a couple of unusual beetles wreaking havoc in our vegetable gardens and they can be found on our trees and shrubs as well. Japanese Beetles and Green June Beetles have been more problematic in southeastern Nebraska this year than most other years.

Japanese beetles are an invasive insect from Japan, where it is not a major pest due to the natural predators found there. This pest was first found in the United States in a New Jersey nursery in 1916 and was likely introduced in infested iris bulbs from Japan.  Since this initial introduction, Japanese beetle populations have steadily expanded westward.

Japanese beetles are problematic insects as both larvae and adults. The larvae are one of the four most common types of white grubs found in Nebraska. As a white grub, larvae feed on the roots of our grass, causing large brown dead spots in the turf that are easily lifted up like a rug from the floor. Adult Japanese beetles are 7/16 inch-long, metallic green beetles. The elytra, or wing coverings, are copper. These beetles can be distinguished from similar looking beetles by the six tufts of white hair along both sides of the abdomen. As adults, Japanese beetles feed on over 300 species of plants including trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, field crops, weeds, and other ornamental plant species. Some of their favorite food plants are roses, lindens, and grapes amongst others. Adult beetles feed on the foliage, flowers, and fruits of these plants. They feed on the upper surface of the leaves and cause a skeletonized pattern to the leaf where the veins of the leaf are often left behind but the rest of the leaf is chewed away. In some cases, they will consume the entire leaf. This can stress the plants, and in high populations of beetles can even kill the plant.

Green June Bug vs JB

Green June beetles are often being found this year as opposed to other years. They are very large, usually more than one-inch in length. They are dull green with some brownish coloration to the elytra and a tan border along the margins of their elytra, which are the hard wing coverings on a beetle. Green June Beetles will feed on ripe fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, corn, and grapes. They will feed on the fruits and the leaves of the plants and as an immature, they are also a white grub species.

These 2 green beetles can be controlled through multiple methods. As larvae, they are best controlled with insecticides applied to the lawn in the months of May, June, and July. There are many different options available including the most common grub control, Merit which contains imidacloprid. Pesticides can be used on the adults in plants, however, be sure to avoid use of pesticides directly on the flowers of these plants to avoid harming pollinators. Imidacloprid, sevin, eight, or other general insecticides can be used on trees and shrubs to control the beetles. In low adult populations, you can hand pick the beetles off of plants and throw them into a bucket of soapy water to kill them and not harm any pollinators.

EAB: What to watch for??

EAB
Photo by Leah Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Bugwood.org – See more at: http://www.insectimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5473689#sthash.6HVDSdAf.dpuf

Emerald Ash Borer, EAB, is an invasive insect that was first found in Nebraska in the summer of 2016 when it was found in Omaha and in Greenwood Nebraska. Previous to this discovery, EAB was found in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado for the closest confirmed presence of this insect to Nebraska. Now that it has been found in Nebraska, there are more concerns for the residents.

One of the common calls I have received lately is determining if a poorly growing ash tree is infected by Emerald Ash Borer or if the insect on the tree is an Emerald Ash Borer beetle. It is hard to determine by looking at the tree if it is infected by EAB, but there are some signs to look for on your tree.

The signs of EAB infestation include suckering at the base of an ash tree, decline in the tree from the top of the canopy downward through the tree, 1/8 inch D-shaped exit holes along the trunk and branches, increased woodpecker damage, S-shaped Serpentine galleries underneath the bark of the tree. One of the first signs is that the tips of the branches will be bare of leaves. If you notice any of these symptoms in your ash tree, you should contact your local Nebraska Extension Educator.

EAB Damage Collage

As for the beetle itself, which would be flying as an adult now, it is a ½ inch long metallic green colored beetle. It has a bronze-purple color under the elytra. Elytra are the hard wings on a beetle. There are a lot of green colored insects that are often confused with EAB. There are tiger beetles, Japanese beetles, Green June beetles, green ground beetles, green stink bugs, and many other green borer beetles.

EAB Look-Alikes Chart -3200px - Updated May2017

If you find any green bug on your tree make sure you bring it to your local Extension Office. The best way to transport insects is to scoop them up and put them into a zip-top baggie or old pill container or old sour cream or butter container and bring it in for proper identification. If you find an insect over the weekend or cannot get into the Extension Office right away, place your insect in the storage container and put it in the freezer to preserve it until a professional can identify it.

At this point, Emerald Ash Borer has only been found in Omaha and Greenwood in Nebraska. The recommendation is to wait to treat for Emerald Ash Borer until it is found within 15 miles of the tree’s location. There are chemical treatments that are effective against EAB. Homeowners can use a soil application, but this is most effective on trees less than 15 inches in trunk diameter. If the tree is larger, professional tree care companies can use a trunk injection. Wait until the insect is found within 15 miles before any treatment is done because the injections wound the tree and we want to wait as long as we can before we begin wounding our trees. A homeowner should also decide if the tree is in good health and a good location before beginning treatments. Planting ash trees at this time is not recommended. If you will not be treating your tree, it might be a good idea to start a new tree nearby to replace the ash tree when the time comes.

At this time, the only thing we can do to help with the ever-expanding problem is to not move firewood or wood products.  Buy wood locally when camping and leave unburned firewood at the campsite when you leave. Also, determine if you have an ash tree in your landscape and watch the tree for signs of this beetle.