Spring will come…Eventually

Thinking about spring planting blog, Jan 16, 18

It has been quite cold the past few weeks. It is hard to think about spring, but maybe thinking about it will warm us up and bring spring weather back to Nebraska sooner. We can begin to plan our landscapes this time of the year to have a plan in place as soon as planting season begins.

Landscaping seems to never be completely finished. Every year you find new plants you really like and unfortunately it is common to lose a few here and there. When you are thinking about a redesign in your landscape, be careful to avoid causing problems to existing plants you want to keep. A common problem I see is when people add soil around an existing tree to add a decorative block border or a new garden bed or to level off a slope surrounding a tree. People often add soil to roots that have emerged from the soil so that they can continue to mow over the roots. Once a tree is growing in a location, adding soil to the rootzone of the tree can and likely will kill the tree.

Tree roots need to breath just like the rest of the tree does. When you add soil to the existing soil around roots, it will basically suffocate the tree. The majority of tree roots are found in the top 18 inches of soil, they are there so that they still have access to oxygen. If you add more soil to the area around the tree, those roots will now be deeper in the soil profile and unable to get the oxygen they need to survive. The tree won’t die immediately from this addition of soil, but overtime the roots will die.

Exposed Tree Roots, J. Fech

Exposed Tree Roots photo from John Fech, Nebraska Extension

Also, when thinking about your landscape and what changes you will make to it, think about common problem areas. If you have Lilacs that are severely damaged every year with powdery mildew or roses that constantly have black spot, maybe it is time to rethink those plants. If a plant commonly has disease problems, it may be planted in the wrong location. Plants only grow to the best of their abilities in locations where they are supposed to grow. Hostas that are planted in full sun will develop brown, papery areas on their leaves every summer. In this case, the hosta isn’t planted in the best location and should be transplanted to more shade. This gives you a new area of full sun to plant something different in.

Try to think about all of the problems you have had in your landscape in the past. Sometimes our plants grow too large for the area they are planted in. If the plant needs to be pruned often throughout the year so it doesn’t grow over a sidewalk or window, it might be time for removal and replacement with something smaller. Or if the plant has a seedhead that is troublesome to you in some way, replacement may be a good option. Maybe the plant has a heavy top and weak stem, causing it to flop down in your garden or causing you to pinch it back often when you don’t have the time or ability. If this is the case try replacing it with a more self-reliant plant. Landscapes can become weedy or overgrown if the space is too large to manage in your spare time, keep your landscape at a manageable level for you.

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Grasshoppers!!

Grasshopper via Mark Robinson,Flickr

Photo of a Grasshopper from Mark Robinson via Flickr Creative Commons License

This year has been quite warm and fairly dry. We have been lucky to have received the rain that we did see come through in July after such a dry June. However, that warm, dry weather has lead to an increase in grasshopper populations this year. These grasshoppers have been a large problem in our lawns and gardens.

Grasshoppers can be a problem in grassy areas and in our gardens. They will feed on flowers and some vegetables such as lettuce, beans, and sweet corn under normal situations. However, in situations where the population is high, like this year, they can be found feeding on nearly all vegetables and in some cases even trees and shrubs. They can even be found eating paper, paint, and window screens. On our plants, you will notice a high number of grasshoppers as well as the chewed appearance of the leaves, fruits, and flowers of many of our plants.

Grasshoppers are often reduced in population due to the environment during their developmental period of life. If we have cool, wet weather right after they hatch from their eggs, typically in early to mid-May, this will help reduce the populations. The nymphs are vulnerable to death due to starvation in the early development of their lives. In most years, we face a fairly wet, cool May that helps reduce the population of grasshoppers, but this year that did not happen, so our populations are high.

Grasshoppers can be managed fairly well. There are some good cultural and mechanical practices that can help as well as some use of chemicals in other locations.

Keeping overgrown grassy areas mowed and/or tilled will help reduce the sites where grasshoppers prefer to lay their eggs, therefore helping to reduce the population. It may also help to leave some of the border areas of a large yard, especially in an acreage setting, unmowed so that the grasshoppers will stay in the unmowed areas of the lawn and not move as quickly into the lawn and garden areas. You may also plant some trap crops, such as zinnias or other flowers in these border areas to attract grasshoppers to these plants instead of your lawn or garden.

For chemical control, it is best to treat grasshoppers when they are young. Once grasshoppers become full grown adults, they have a decreased susceptibility to insecticides and they are larger which also makes them harder to control with insecticides. With all insects, management is much more effective if insecticides are applied at a younger age for the insects to be controlled.

illinois bundleflower

Look for areas along the roadsides for spraying where eggs are deposited.

When applying insecticides for grasshoppers, first concentrate the sprays on the roadsides and ditches where grasshoppers lay their eggs to get them when they first emerge from the eggs. Then you can focus on the lawn and garden areas. In the vegetable garden, be sure to use insecticides that are labeled for use in the vegetable garden such as sevin or eight and follow the PHI. The PHI is the amount of days to wait to harvest after spraying has been done. Most any general insecticide can be used in locations not in the vegetable garden including sevin, eight, or malathion, just make sure the label has grasshoppers and the area to be treated on it and it will work.

The information for this article came from the NebGuide: A Guide to Grasshopper Control in Yards and Gardens by Gary Hein Extension Entomologist, John Campbell Extension Entomologist, & Ron Seymour Extension Educator.

Bed Bugs while Traveling

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Denver Botanic Gardens

Summer is finally coming. With the end of school near and Memorial Day only a couple of weeks away, many of us will began planning our summer vacations. Summer vacations are so much fun and a great way to bond with your family. However vacations are not so much fun if you unintentionally bring home some unwanted guests, bed bugs.

Bed Bug after feeding

Bed bug photo by Vicki Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension

Bed bugs are flat, wingless insects with adults reaching a size of approximately one-quarter of an inch in length. These insects are reddish brown and are usually a deeper red after they have finished feeding. Bed bugs feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals, mainly humans, but do not spread diseases.

bed bug bite 2

A common first indicator of bed bugs would be bite marks on your body. The bites are usually found around a person’s neck, arms, and shoulders, but sometimes are found on a person’s legs and ankles. The bite marks are not always a good indicator of bed bugs because 30 percent of the population does not react to bed bugs even when bitten repeatedly. Other signs of a bed bug infestation include small brown fecal spots on the bed, linens, pillows, or on items surrounding the bed such as the nightstand. You may also see the bed bugs themselves because they are large enough to see with the naked eye.

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Luggage in the bathtub while inspecting a room for bed bugs.

There are methods to protect yourself from a bed bug infestation while traveling. Check out the room you will be staying in before you put your belongings in the room. While doing a bed bug inspection in a hotel room, place your luggage in the bathtub where the bed bugs cannot access it. Look at the beds, sheets, behind the headboard and in the nightstand for fecal smears or the bugs themselves. If you don’t see anything, you should still be careful when you get home. Leave the luggage in the car in the sun for a few hours on a hot day to kill any bugs and eggs that may have gotten into your luggage. Also, take your clothes straight to the washer and dryer when you get home rather than leaving it in your bedroom for a few days prior to washing. If you wash clothing and dry it on the medium to hot setting for 20-30 minutes you will kill the bugs and eggs found in your laundry. If you can’t get it all washed right away, leave the luggage outside or in the garage until it can be moved to the washer or dryer. Inspect toiletries before bringing them indoors as well. A duffel bag is preferred to a suitcase because it can be thrown into the dryer after travel. Shoes and purses can be placed in the freezer for a few days to kill any bugs and eggs found on them.

Bed bugs are very hard to control, 88 percent of all bed bug populations have become resistant to the chemicals that we use to control them. Bug bombs are not effective at controlling bed bugs because the chemicals from the bug bomb cannot get to the hiding locations of bed bugs. If you have a bed bug infestation in your home it is best to contact a pest control company for management. Reducing clutter in your home will help reduce the infestation as well because bed bugs can hide in clutter to avoid being sprayed. Getting a bed bug infestation does not mean that you have a dirty house or that the hotel is not clean, they will infest anywhere people are commonly found because that is their food source.

Time to Plant Vegetable Gardens

 

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My mom, Karen, and my niece, Mya.

Mother’s Day is coming and is a great time to honor our mothers. I get my interest in horticulture from my mother and so I like to buy her plants for mother’s day gifts. It is not only a holiday for our wonderful moms, but also a great time to get out and start planting our gardens.

Mother’s day is a great date to remember for good timing for planting warm season vegetables outdoors because we have to wait to plant these frost sensitive crops until after the last spring frost has occurred. Warm season crops include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, garden beans, corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, squash, okra, and sweet potatoes.

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When purchasing plants, be sure to look at the root system. The roots are very important to a plant, it is what is used to absorb water and nutrients for growth and production. Pull the plant out of the container it is sold in and look at the root system. If there are a lot of roots along the outside edge of the soil ball for that particular plant, it may be rootbound. When a plant is rootbound, the roots become entangled because the plant has gotten too large for the container it is growing in. Rootbound plants should not be your first choice for planting because these plants often continue to grow with encircling roots and can cause damage and even death in the plants. If a rootbound plant is purchased, be sure to thoroughly break up the root ball to help the plant grow correctly for better health.

Make sure that the garden is located to get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but 8-10 hours of sunlight is best. Make sure that it is planted on level ground to ensure uniform watering. Mulch is necessary to a garden for moisture retention and weed reduction for less competition. Good mulches include wood chips, lawn clippings, and newspaper. Vegetable gardens need 1-inch of water per week. The best option for watering is a soaker hose or drip irrigation to reduce the spread of diseases from splashing water.

Vegetable gardens can be planted in containers or in raised beds. Containers that can be used include shoes, pallets, boxes, ceramic containers, whiskey barrels, tires, and cow tanks, in addition to containers bought at a garden center. Just make sure that your container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Container gardening is a great option for people with disabilities that restrict them from traditional gardening or for those living in apartments or rental properties where they have no lawn to dig up to plant into.

Raised beds are another alternative to traditional gardening for those with disabilities or those with poor soils. Raised beds are gardens built up higher than their surrounding soil level. Raised beds can be made without an enclosure as a berm or with an enclosure using items such as landscape timbers or old railroad ties, as long as creosote does not still ooze from them. Raised beds can typically be much larger than a container garden, but should be only as wide as your reach to the center for weeding purposes. This type of gardening would be a good choice for those facing problems with toxicity from black walnut trees.

Veggies collage

However you garden, just enjoy it and plant the crops that you and your family favor most for meals. If you have extra you can always take it to a local farmer’s market to make a few dollars on your extra produce. Gardening is a fun way to grow your own vegetables, to get some exercise and to enjoy nature all at the same time. This is a fun activity for kids of all ages.

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.

Deer, Rabbits, Voles, Oh My!!

With November here, we can expect cooler temperatures and more interactions with wildlife. Often times these interactions are with the deer, rabbits, and voles chewing on our plants. These pests can cause a great deal of damage and can be controlled in our landscapes to protect our plants over the winter months.

My beautiful picture

Deer can really be a nuisance to plants in all seasons of the year. They can chew off the ends of small twigs and bucks can rub their antlers on smaller trees, injuring the bark. I get a lot of calls from people who want to know what the silver bullet is to reduce the amount of damage that deer do to our vegetable gardens and trees and shrubs each year. The sad truth is that there is no real cure for deer damage to our plants. Exclusion is going to have the biggest impact on deer damage to our plants

Deer Rub on Tree, Photo from USDA Forest Service - North Central Research Station , USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Deer Rub on Tree, Photo from USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station , USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Excluding deer from our plants is sometimes a difficult task, but it can be done, in smaller areas, like around acreages. There are fences that can be utilized but they need to be at least 8 feet tall. Another type of fence that has proven quite effective is an electric fence that has small squares of aluminum foil coated with peanut butter, placed sporadically on the fence. This technique is used to eventually train the deer to stay away from the fence, even if the electricity is not turned on. This electric fence technique should not be used in an area where a child or a pet can get to the fence so that they do not get electrocuted. The commercial spray repellants available for deer are not effective.

Rabbit Protection Fence, Photo from Lancaster County Extension

Rabbit Protection Fence, Photo from Lancaster County Extension

Rabbits can also be quite a problem in areas where deer are a problem. Rabbits will chew on small plants. In the summer they chew many of our plants off at ground level, and in the winter months they gnaw on the thin bark of young trees to feed on the green inner bark areas. Rabbits can be excluded by surrounding a garden or landscape area with a low fence, at least 2 feet tall. Cylinders can be placed around young trees to reduce damage during the winter. Habitat modification is another good way to control rabbits, remove brush piles, debris, and other cover that rabbits prefer to live in during the winter. As with deer, the commercial spray repellants available for rabbits are not effective.

Vole damage, NebGuide

Vole Damage Photo from NebGuide “Controlling Vole Damage” by S. Vantassel, S. Hygnstrom, D. Ferraro

Voles are another species of wildlife that can do a great deal of damage to our plants in the winter months. If we receive enough snow cover, voles may feed on trees and shrubs, they will also gnaw on tree bark and roots, and potentially kill plants. To help prevent this, keep tall grass and weeds removed from around the trunk of trees and avoid mulch layers deeper than three inches. Placing hardware cloth around tree trunks will prevent vole feeding.

Chiggers…They make me so itchy!!

Container GardensIt’s summer! It is a great time to be outdoors working in the garden, playing in the sprinkler, and getting bug bites. I realize bug bites is not something we want to think about when we think about the joys of summer, but it’s a reality that they go together. Insects and other “bugs” are active in the summer months and that is when they feed on us. Mosquitoes, ticks, flies, gnats, and chiggers can be found throughout the summer months nagging us and leaving us with itchy, red bumps all over our bodies.

Chiggers are actually a type of arthropod, but not an insect. They are more closely related to a spider than they are to an insect because they have 8 legs. However, when mites are immature they do only have 6 legs, which makes it more confusing. Many people will also call chiggers “jiggers” which is the same thing, these would just be different common names for the same mite. The stage that bites us is an immature form of the common red harvest mite.

Chigger Bite photo by V. Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension.

Chigger Bite photo by V. Jedlicka, Lancaster County Extension.

Chiggers differ from mosquitoes and ticks by their food choices. They do bite us but they do not do it to suck our blood. They pierce us with their mouthpart to inject their salivary fluid that breaks down the host animal’s cells so they can then suck up the liquefied tissue as a drink. The enzymes that are found in their salivary fluid is what causes an itchy reaction to us. Chiggers prefer to feed in locations that are constricted such as sock tops or waistbands. If we itch the bite mark bacteria and fungi can get into the bite if we itch the spot, which can cause more problems and an occasional infection. The best thing for the bite is to avoid itching it by using an antihistamine cream on each bite.

Many people believe that chiggers burrow into our skin and that is what causes the itch. These people also believe that painting nail polish over the bites will smother and kill the chigger, thus eliminating the itch. This is not true. Chiggers are easily removed from our bodies with soap and water. They only will stay on you until they are brushed off or until they are done feeding, from on top of our skin.

DEET insect repellant for chigger control

DEET insect repellent for chigger control

Chiggers can be found in your yard or anywhere with tall grass and weeds. The best way to keep from being bitten by chiggers would be to avoid sitting in grass. If you can lay down a blanket or sit in a chair you would be better off than if you sat directly in the grass. Also, it is best to wear long sleeved shirts and pants with socks and boots to eliminate locations where chiggers can get to our skin. Make sure that anytime you are outside in the summer months, you use insect repellents containing DEET to deter chiggers from feeding on you. If you find a large population of chiggers in your own lawn, a liquid treatment of bifenthrin will reduce chiggers 75-95 percent for several weeks, according to Fred Baxendale, UNL Entomologist.

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.

tick

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
flea

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.