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.

Insects & Firewood

Fireplace
Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are a nice way to keep your homes warm in the winter while saving money on heating bills. However, when using any type of wood-powered heating method, it is always a concern of what other things you will bring inside besides just the firewood. Insects are often found in wood brought indoors for fireplaces and they can emerge in your home to cause you troubles. The most common insects we find in our firewood include carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles.

Insects can be brought into your home when you bring in firewood for fireplaces and stoves. Some insects may 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 temperatures warm up, either in spring or in your home if you bring the firewood indoors, 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.

carpenter ant

Carpenter Ants are commonly found in many forms of 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 that have decay as 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 of your home to decay, otherwise they usually will not become a problem in a home. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. We have longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles that 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 powerpost 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. So, the wood-boring beetles can get into our homes on firewood, but they are rarely a problem other than an annoyance to you.

A good control for insects that emerge from your firewood in your home is to vacuum them to dispose of them in that manner. However, the best method of management of these insects is to keep them out of the house in the first place. To protect your home from insects emerging from firewood indoors, bring in wood only as needed. Do not store your firewood indoors, leave it outdoors in an accessible location to bring in wood a few pieces at a time so that it goes directly into the fire. It is not recommended, and is strongly discouraged, to apply pesticides to your firewood because dangerous fumes may come out of the firewood when you burn it.

Yard and Garden: May 8, 2015

Yard and Garden Green Logo

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for May 8, 2015. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am and it will run through July 31, 2015. It can also be found on kutt995.com for online listening. If you missed a show or just want to read through the questions, I have written them all in my blog and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Guest Host: Graham Herbst, Community Forester with the Nebraska Forest Service

1. This caller has pampas grass growing in her yard that last winter had problems with winterkill. What would be a good alternative ornamental grass she could plant?

A: Pampas grass had a lot of problems with winterkill last spring due to the dry, cold, windy winter conditions we faced in the winter of 2013-2014. Pampas grass is on the edge of its hardiness zone in Nebraska, but there are many other options for native grasses here. Maidenhair grass, or Miscanthus, is a great choice for a large native grass and it has many varieties to choose many different qualities. Big Bluestem and Little bluestem are great native choices, as well as switchgrass, sideoats grama, and many more. Ornamental grasses give us winter interest and habitat and food for wildlife during the winter months.

2. A caller had a sewer that was dug out and filled with soil. She then seeded new turfgrass on the area that has come up and is growing well. This spring the area sunk back down 6 inches. What can she do to level this area out?

A: You can remove the grass from that area, gathering 4-6 inches of soil and roots with it. Add soil to bring that back up to level with the surrounding lawn, and replace the grass piece back on top. Keep this grass well-watered until it becomes established, it will act like a piece of sod. The other option would be to back fill the location with soil and reseed the area with turf seed.

3. A caller has orange odd-looking structures hanging off of her cedar trees. What is this? Will it harm the tree?

Winter gall of Cedar-apple rust.
Winter gall of Cedar-apple rust.

A: These would be the galls from a disease called cedar-apple rust. This disease requires 2 hosts to complete its lifecycle, a cedar and an apple or something else in the Malus family such as a pear or crabapple. This disease overwinters on cedar trees as a hard, brown, odd-shaped structure on the branches and with spring rains they open up to look like orange, gelatinous, galls that are reminiscent of an orange octopus. This is when the spores are spreading to the apple trees. This disease causes no real damage to cedar trees, but on apple trees it causes lesions on the apples and leaf spots. Here is a NebGuide on Cedar-Apple Rust.

4. This caller has 3 apple trees and this winter one of them has not bloomed nor leafed out. Is the tree dead?

A: Check the tree for living tissue by scraping the bark off to expose green or brown tissue underneath. If it is green, it is still alive, if it is brown it is dead. Also check the branches for flexibility, if they bend they are still alive if the break they are dead. Give the tree a few more weeks to see if it comes out of it later this spring.

5. This caller has moles in their yard. How can they be controlled?

A: Moles can be controlled with traps. These traps will euthanize the mole in the hole to be left behind after control has been achieved. These have the best effect if the mound is pushed down 2-3 times prior to placing the trap in the hole, this will show if the tunnel is an active one before the trap is placed in it. Here is a guide from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management on Mole Control.

6. This caller has voles in their yard. How can they be controlled?

A: Voles are controlled with snap traps that we typically use for mice. Place 2 traps in the run from the voles, or the area where the grass is damaged. Place the traps perpendicular to the runs and place them facing in different directions in the run. So, for a vole run that goes North to South, place one trap facing east and one facing west. Here is a guide from the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management on Vole Control.

7. This gentleman had used Scotts liquid turf builder on his lawn and it is not working to green up the lawn or to reduce the weeds found in his lawn. He also has a zoysiagrass lawn that is not growing as well in some portions of his lawn as it has in the past. What would be causing these problems and how can he improve these?

A: Broadleaf weeds are best controlled in the fall so it is best to apply a broadleaf weed killer, such as 2,4-D, 2 times in the fall, such as September 30 and October 15. Even in the spring, some control can be achieved, but they will require more than one application as they are tough weeds to kill. The zoysiagrass may have experienced some winterkill so it might be wise to take plugs from the area of the lawn where it is growing well and move them into areas of the lawn where it is not growing so well.

8. This caller has ash trees that are getting oval-shaped holes in them and ants on the trunk of the tree. Did the ants do this to the tree? How can it be managed?

A: These ants are probably carpenter ants. Carpenter ants do not harm your trees, they will just burrow into wood that has already begun to decay for some other reason. Carpenter ants on a tree do not require treatment. The holes are most likely due to native borers of the ash tree, such as red-headed ash tree borers or ash-lilac borer. These borers can be controlled with a trunk spray with chemicals such as sevin or eight or apply a soil drench with an imidacloprid product around the base of the trunk. This doesn’t sound like it is Emerald Ash Borer because the holes from EAB are D-shaped, not rounded or oval.

9. This caller has an ash tree and wants to know when he should treat it? He has heard that it takes up to 5 years for the systemic insecticides to move throughout the tree into the canopy, if this is true should he treat now.

A: Systemic insecticides take only a couple of weeks to move throughout the entire tree and they only last for 1 or 2 years depending on which chemical is used. It is best to wait until Emerald Ash Borer gets within 15 miles of the tree before treatment begins because treatments are costly, damaging to the tree, and not necessary until the borer gets closer. Trunk injections wound the tree and after repeated years of treatments it causes a great deal of stress to the tree, so there is no need to treat and harm the tree prior to when it is necessary.

Insects in Firewood

Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license
Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

With the changing of the seasons, we look to the imminent future that lies ahead of us, winter. When the winter winds start blowing, we start preparing our woodpiles for winter stoves to heat our homes throughout the long cold winter. When we do start our piles, we need to decide where to pile it for easiest and quickest access to the home. We also need to take into consideration the insect pests that may lie inside those logs of wood.

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
  • Termites
  • Carpenter ants
  • Wood boring beetles
  • Many more

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.

Termites
Termite Colony

Termites would be the most intimidating insect from this list. If you feel, at any time, that you may have termites in your home, or you just are curious, you can call a pest control company to do an inspection. If they find termites in your home, you have a couple of choices of how to control the termites. You can use either bait stations, these can be above ground or in the ground, or you can use a barrier spray. Either of these methods of control have their place; it really depends on the situation. Allow your chemical control company to help you decide which to use.

A couple of tips to remember when making your woodpile for the winter are to not stack your woodpile directly on the ground and only bring in wood as needed. The first tip to avoiding bringing insects into your home with firewood would be to not stack your woodpile directly on the ground. This is an important reminder for any time of the year. This tip is to avoid termite damage. Termites can get into, and feed on, any wood that comes into direct contact with the soil. If you pile wood up against your house with the pile starting directly on the ground, termites can sense the wood pile and work their way through the wood to your home.

Firewood pile
Flickr image courtesy of Steven Severinghaus per CC license

You also should only bring inside the wood that you will be using right away to avoid insects getting into your home and flying around.   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.

Having a fireplace is a wonderful way to warm up and to save money on the heating bills in the winter time. Just make sure to stack it in a manner that avoids insect entry into our homes.