Deicers blog header

With winter in full swing, it is a common practice to use deicers on our sidewalks and driveways to prevent falling on ice. With deicing agents, we need to be careful to not harm our plants when we use them and make good choices on what we use.

Bag of DeicerDeicers can cause damage to our concrete sidewalks and to our 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)
  • Dieback
  • Stunting
  • Leaf margin and tip damage that looks as though the leaves were burned by a chemical

DSCN5874To avoid damage 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, 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. Calcium magnesium acetate is a deicer that contains no salt. This is a safe alternative to the regular salts because it does not harm plants or animals and can be used on concrete because it doesn’t cause the damage that salt does. It is also less damaging to the environment that some of the other choices, but runoff of this product can degrade water quality in the surface water. You can also choose to use sand on your concrete, which will cause no damage to the plants in your landscape, this will not melt your ice, but it will give you traction to walk on the sidewalk. Sand and gravel will not cause any harm to your plants and minimal damage to the environment but it will have to be swept away after the snow and ice melts.

Another snow related topic is that of the snow and ice resting on your tree branches and on top of your shrubs. The snow can be removed with a broom if you desire to do so, but can be left alone to melt for no damage to the plants it is sitting on. As for the ice, let it melt naturally. Do not try to hit the ice off of the tree branches because this can cause you to break some of the branches, which will be more detrimental to the plant. If there is snow on your tree causing it to bend down, it will reform in the spring once the snow melts off of it.


Wildflower Week 2015

Husker Hort

A great resource that helps to identify different wildflowers. A great resource that helps to identify  wildflowers.

Wildflower Week is in full bloom. What exactly is Wildflower Week and what is a wildflower? Wildflowers and native plants are very versatile plants that have multiple benefits in the landscape. Some wildflowers are a cut above the rest and are worth a try in your garden.

Wildflowers are an important part of any region’s identity. Nebraska Wildflower Week celebrates this “sense of place” through wildflower-related events and activities the first week in June, when many of Nebraska’s prairies and gardens

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) serves as coordinator for Wildflower Week activities, bringing together organizations and individuals across the state that recognizes the value of wildflowers—not only for their beauty but also for what they imply and symbolize. “Where wildflowers are thriving, is a sign that the environment is healthy,” said Bob Henrickson, whose nursery production work with the Arboretum concentrates on…

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Emerald Ash Borer

Photo by Leah Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, - See more at:

Photo by Leah Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, – See more at:

An invasive insect pest continues to move closer and closer to Nebraska, Emerald Ash Borer. Emerald Ash Borer, EAB, has not been found in Nebraska. The closest locations to Nebraska would be the Kansas City area, which is 60 miles from the southeast corner of Nebraska, and the Creston Iowa area, which is 80 miles from the Bellevue area of Nebraska.

Emerald Ash Borer is a wood boring insect that is ½ inch long and is a metallic green color with bronze underneath the wings. The problem with Emerald Ash Borer is that it bores into healthy ash trees. We have many native borer species, but they feed on stressed or dying trees, that is what makes EAB so much worse than normal borers and it is why it is destroying so many trees.

EAB is an insect that was first found in the United States in 2002, when it was found killing ash trees in southeast Michigan. Currently, Emerald Ash Borer has been found in 25 states including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado, but it has not been found in Nebraska.

Ash Seeds and Leaves Flickr image courtesy of Evelyn Fitzgerald per CC license

Ash Seeds and Leaves Flickr image courtesy of Evelyn Fitzgerald per CC license

Emerald Ash Borer feeds only on true ash trees, which means that mountain ash is not attacked because it is in a different family and is not a true ash tree. Ash trees have opposite, compound leaves with 5-11 leaflets. They have paddle-shaped seeds that stay on the tree through the fall and into the winter months. EAB has also recently been found on Fringe Tree, which is a tree in the same family as ash, but is not very common in Nebraska.

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. If you notice any of these symptoms in your ash tree, you should contact your local Nebraska Extension Educator.

EAB Damage Collage

Emerald Ash Borer treatments are not recommended until the insect 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.

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.

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.

2014-09-06 13.05.15

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

2014-02-06 17.52.29

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.


A Tour of Southeast Nebraska Horticulture with Master Gardeners

MG Tour-group picOn Saturday, September 6, 2014 I took an energetic group of Master Gardeners on a Horticultural tour through Southeast Nebraska. We were even joined by current and past Extension faculty Paul Hay, Larry Germer, and Sondra Germer. This was a fun and educational experience that I am glad I got to share with this wonderful group of Master Gardeners from Gage, Saline, Jefferson, and Lancaster County.

Stop #1 at Kimmel Orchard in Nebraska City

Stop #1 at Kimmel Orchard in Nebraska City

We started out the day at Kimmel Orchard in Nebraska City. We met with Vaughn Hammond, an Extension Educator based out of the orchard, who told us the history of the Kimmel Orchard and the unique relationship that exists between the Kimmel Foundation and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Vaughn took us on a hayrack ride through the entire orchard teaching us about the types of fruits they grow and what they have to do to care for all the different types of tree fruits. We were then able to browse the gift shop to purchase apples, cider, and the infamous apple donuts. I purchased apples to make some delicious cinnamon applesauce, Yum!

Stop #2 Lewis and Clark Missouri River Basin Visitors Center

Stop #2 at Lewis and Clark Missouri River Basin Visitors Center in Nebraska City

After lunch in Nebraska City, we moved on to the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Basin Visitors Center. This was a fun place for us to just be on our own to tour the many hiking trails that led to the Missouri River Overlook and to the Earth Lodge that was re-created to look like homes of the Plains Indian. I sure got my exercise here, as the trail to the Missouri River Overlook took a long, steep hill back up to the bus.

brownville arboretum collage

Stop #3 at Governor Furnas Arboretum in Brownville


Next, we traveled onto Brownville, for the Governor Furnas Arboretum. We received a tour of the grounds by the groundskeeper who told us all about the process of establishing this arboretum in the first place and how they had the aid of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and Kim Todd, UNL Professor in Horticulture. This was a nice place to tour as they had used some under-utilized trees that we don’t see as often in our communities.

Stop #4 at Schillingbridge winery and microbrewery in Pawnee City

Stop #4 at Schillingbridge winery and microbrewery in Pawnee City

We finished the day with a relaxing supper at Schillingbridge winery and microbrewery. This was a good experience for us to see all of the grape vines. We were able to discuss the vineyard with owner Sharon Schilling and she described to us the troubles that come with running a vineyard and winery. This year the grapes have been subject to a dry winter, late frost, and hail that has led to a reduced crop.

We all had a great time on this trip and are looking for ideas for another tour next year. After all the fun and learning, though, we were ready to get home and enjoy our apples and cider as well as relaxing on the sofa.

Fall Invading Insects

Photo by Eric Berg, Associate Forester for the Nebraska Forest Service

Photo by Eric Berg, Associate Forester for the Nebraska Forest Service

Fall is my favorite season of the year. The weather is much more enjoyable, the trees turn fantastic colors, and football begins again. With all the fun of fall, however, comes the not so enjoyable entry of insects into our homes.

Most people see the same insect pests in their homes each year. The majority of household pests that we tend to see most often in the fall invading our homes for warmth and food are boxelder bugs, Asian multicolored ladybeetles, and spiders. None of these really warrant any control by a pesticide, they are fairly easy to control and do not do any real damage to your homes or to you.


Boxelder Bug

Boxelder bugs, or Democrats as some people call them, are a common nuisance pest to enter homes in the fall and they are often seen leaving the home in the spring. These are the insects that are black with a reddish-orange X on their backs. They are a type of a true bug that is found feeding on many trees but they prefer boxelders, ash, and maples.


Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle

Multicolored Asian  lady beetles are a nuisance pest as well, that we often see in the fall. These are the ladybugs that we find in our homes in the fall. These ladybugs can bite and it can cause pain, but they don’t cause any medical issues. The biggest problem with these lady beetles is that they get in the house and are found all over your home. They are just trying to find a place to hide out for the winter.

Spiders are common in our homes throughout the year, but tend to be found more during the fall and winter. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. Wolf spiders include one of the largest species of spiders found 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 mild.

brown_recluse1-Dept of Ento

Brown Recluse Spider

Brown recluse spiders are becoming more common in southeastern Nebraska. These spiders are about the size of a quarter, legs and all. They are a brown color with a darker brown fiddle shape on their back. They can cause a bad reaction in some people, not all people are as sensitive to the bites as others. If you have brown recluse spiders in your home or office, just take the time to look around things that have been stored before you move them. Most of the time, if a person gets bit it is because they accidentally trap the spider between themselves and either an article of clothing or a box. The best way to ensure you do not get bitten is to shake out items when you take them out of storage and watch where you put your hands when you pull boxes out of storage.

Household invading insects and spiders, generally, will not cause any damage to your homes or yourself. The only problems with these insects being in your homes is that they can come in swarms and they have an “ick” factor as most people do not enjoy insects, especially in their homes. The best control for these insects include:

  • Sticky traps around the home
  • Step-on or smash any you see
  • Vacuum or flush any found
  • Seal up all cracks and crevices on your home and door and window screens
  • Indoor/Outdoor barrier sprays can help reduce the population of some home invading insects and spiders
  • Do NOT spray a population of insects found in a wall void, this can lead to a secondary insect population that comes in your home to help decompose those dead insects left in the wall void


Integrated Pest Management

Bee pollinating clover

Now that gardening has fully begun, it brings to mind the fact that so many of our fruit and vegetable crops are pollinated by insects. According to the Crops & Soils Magazine for certified crop advisers, agronomists, and soil scientists; more than a third of the food we eat depends on pollinators. Because of this, we need to make sure we are doing what we can to protect and reduce the damage to bees and other pollinator insects.

Bee populations have decreased in the past few years due to a problem called Colony Collapse Disorder, which is still being researched. The scientists are calling the reduced bee populations Colony Collapse Disorder and are attributing it to pesticides, a mite, and poor bee nutrition due to a lower diversity of flowers for the bees to forage. There are things we can do to help the bee populations, including planting a wider variety of plants for the bees to forage for pollen.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a good way to help reduce pesticides in the environment and help our bee populations. IPM is a method of managing weeds, insects, or diseases by using multiple techniques. Control methods for IPM would include mechanical such as hand pulling, cultural such as tillage, biological such as allowing natural predator insects to survive and chemical such as using pesticides.

IPM practices for insects would include

  • Tilling the garden after the growing season
  • Hand removal of the insects
  • Inspection for eggs to remove prior to emergence
  • Utilizing row covers to protect the plants from damage
  • Scout your gardens often to reduce an insect pest problem while the population is small
  • Try to avoid killing all the predator insects such as ladybugs, praying mantis’, and ground beetles.

Weeds in a lawn

The main idea behind managing weeds in your lawn or in your garden is to reduce locations where they grow and have healthy plants that can out-compete the weed species.  IPM practices for weeds would include:

  • Hand pulling
  • Mowing grass at the recommended 2.5-3 inches
  • Mulching around trees and gardens
  • Fertilizing correctly to ensure all plants are healthy
  • Planting the right plant in the right place

For a disease to occur there must be a susceptible plant host, a disease causing organism, and the proper environment.  IPM practices for diseases would include:

  • Watering plants early in the morning
  • Avoiding watering over the top of the leaves
  • Spacing garden plants and trees correctly
  • Planting resistant cultivars
  • Removing exhausted plant material in the fall to reduce possible diseases to overwinter where the plants will be next spring.

Chemicals are often a good way to manage pests in our lawns and gardens, however if we use an IPM program we may not develop a pest problem in the first place. If a pest problem does occur and chemicals are necessary, just make sure that you are applying the pesticides correctly. Use pesticides only as prescribed on the label, in the correct environmental conditions, and using the correct personal protective equipment. Also, if insecticides are necessary for an insect pest, be sure to apply them later in the evening when bees are no longer active for the night to avoid harming the bee population. It is also best to avoid spraying insecticides on plants that are blooming, so bees cannot be harmed when foraging that flower for pollen.

Fleas and Ticks

LewiNow that warm temperatures have finally come, summer will be here before we know it. With warmer temperatures, comes many insects and other arthropods outside to annoy us, including fleas and ticks. I have a wonderful miniature schnauzer that I would hate to see fleas and ticks on, and I don’t want him bringing these pests inside my home. There are many things we can do to protect our pets and ourselves from ticks and fleas.


Ticks are arachnids, they are a close relative to spiders, as they have 8 legs. The most common tick found in Nebraska is the American dog tick, or the wood tick. In extreme southeastern Nebraska, the Lone Star tick may also be found, which can be a carrier for a disease similar to Lyme disease. Many times we will find ticks on our pets or ourselves after being outside, especially if we have been in heavy vegetation where ticks are often found.

Ticks can be controlled through the use of many tactics.

  • Tick collars
    • The pet will still need to be inspected for ticks
  • Shampoo treatments
    • Need to be repeated often
  • Spot pesticides
    • Purchased from your veterinarian
    • Applied monthly through the spring, summer, and fall
    • The most recommended treatment of control for your pets.

Bug Spray Collage

To reduce your exposure to ticks,

  • Avoid tick-infested areas, if possible
  • Wear proper clothing
    • Light -colored
    • Long-sleeved shirts
    • Long pants
  • Use repellents
    • Those containing DEET work best
  • Inspect yourself upon returning home from potentially tick-infested areas
  • Remove any ticks that became attached to you
    • Use fine-tipped tweezers
    • Pull the head and the rest of the tick out all together to avoid infection
    • disinfect bite location and wash hands after removal of ticks
  • It is not practical to use chemicals in your yard to control ticks
    • The best thing for controlling ticks in your lawn would be to keep it mowed at the recommended 2-3 inches

Highly magnified view of a cat flea. Jim Kalisch, UNL Department of Entomology

As for fleas, these are transported into your home by pets and by other stray animals to your yard. Fleas are the tiny insects that jump around on your pets and can get into your home. Many of the tick pesticides are also labeled for fleas. If your pet gets fleas or brings them into your home, it is best to treat inside your home and the pet at the same time.

  • For your home
    • Wash bedding
    • Vacuum
    • Use an insect growth regulator (IGR) in areas where the pet spends time to kill any larvae still found in your home
  • For your pet
    • Apply spot pesticides
  • For your yard
    • Utilize IGR’s outdoors, in shady locations, where the pet spends time
Spot treatments for fleas and ticks for Dogs.

Spot treatments for fleas and ticks for Dogs.

For flea and tick control it is recommended that you work with your veterinarian before you use products on your pet. It is important to read and follow label instructions with any pesticide. Products for use on dogs may not be appropriate for cats. The information for this blog came from Barb Ogg, UNL Extension Educator in Lancaster County.


Preparing Summer Gardens

Tilled gardenWe are almost past our frost-free date for 2014. We usually say we are safe to plant all our summer plants on or following Mother’s Day for the year, which is May 11th of this year. This way we are going to be past any fear of frost, in most years, which would injure or kill what we just planted. With that said, we need to make sure that all our gardens are prepared correctly and our plants are planted properly.

Vegetable gardens need to be tilled and the soil needs to be prepared for planting. The time to apply additional organic matter to our gardens would be while we are tilling it up for planting. Spring is the time that we can add compost to our vegetable gardens, don’t apply fresh manure to a garden unless it is done in the fall of the year to allow all the bacteria in the manure to break down. When adding compost to a garden, till through the garden a few times then add compost at a 1-2 inch layer to the soil surface and run the tiller through the garden an additional 2-3 times.

Tilling Garden

After the soil is prepared, and we have come to Mother’s Day weekend or later, you can plant your summer vegetables into that soil. Make sure you follow the spacing recommendations that are on the seeds or labels. If plants are grown too close together they will have a lower vegetable yield and they are more vulnerable to diseases in the environment. Be sure to water all newly planted vegetables and seeds in immediately after they are planted. Granular fertilizers can be applied to the soil when planting to help give the plants a jump-start. A general vegetable garden fertilizer of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 works very well to help your plants grow well.

Another thing we can do with our gardens this time of year, is cleanup all of our annual and perennial beds and plant our container gardens. If you haven’t already done so, prune back all the dead material on perennials such as coneflowers, lilies, and ornamental grasses. This will allow the new material to grow up and look nice. If there are new perennials you want to plant in your garden, you can plant those now. You can also begin planting annual plants as needed to fill in your flower beds. If you haven’t pruned back roses or butterfly bushes, you can do that now too. Wait to prune back spring blooming shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and spring blooming spireas until after they have bloomed for the year.

Container Gardens

Container Garden Ideas; Photo from:

Container gardens can also be planted now. Follow these steps for a great container garden.

  • Choose your  container
    • Make sure it has a drainage hole, otherwise most anything can work for a container
  • Fill the container with a potting soil or soil-less mixture
  • If it is a large container, you can fill the bottom third with aluminum cans, plastic bottles, or gravel
  • Plant your container with annuals, perennials, herbs, succulents, or mixtures.
  • Keep your container plants well watered, as they tend to dry out quickly
  • For a visual display, try to plant the container with a thriller, a filler, and a spiller
    • The thriller could be something tall and eye-catching, such as spike grass
    • The spiller could be something that drapes over the side of the container, such as wave petunias
    • The filler could be whatever else you like to put in your container to fill the space, such as gerbera daisy