Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pollinator Week 2015

Mexican lavender is a favorite
of bees.  I always enjoy watching
them at my local nursery because
I'll spot hundreds of honey bees!
This week (June 15-19) is officially Pollinator Week, so lets take some time to celebrate the little insects that help our landscapes grow!

Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, but the main pollinators for fruiting and flowering plants are insects.  Bats, birds, and small mammals definitely do their part, but nothing compares to an insect.  And no insect can compete with the pollinating power of the almighty honey bee!











Licorice Mint - Anise Hyssop
Known to be a very good flower
for attracting native bees,
honey bees and other
pollinators
If you want to encourage some pollinators in your garden, here are some tips and plants that I would suggest growing:




  • Let your weeds flower - butteflies, beneficial insects, bees and others 
  • LOVE weeds.  Weeds generally have a lot of nectar and pollen and are attractive to pollinators.  The worst yard for pollinators is a bare turf lawn.  Let something bloom and see the butterflies and bees flood in.
  • Anything with a yellow, white or purple flower.  These are the colors that typically attract insects.  FYI - insects cannot see red, so unless that red flower has another color component or is extremely fragrant (like roses), it probably isn't being pollinated by an insect.  If you think about it, very few native plants have red flowers.  
  • Herbs of any time.  Let those herbs flower! We grow herbs to pinch off and usually discourage them from flowering, but if you let a small bunch go to flower you will be surprised at what insects are drawn to it.  Syrphid flies (a good predatory insect in the garden), pollinating flies and beetles, butterflies and bees.  Try thyme, parsley, dill, and mints... especially those mints!

Thyme
Dill flowering
Parsley flowering
  • Veggie Garden!  Veggies and fruits usually fruit in yellow and white and with good reason.  Many of them require an insect to pollinate them or they will not produce fruit. If you plant a good garden you will not only get food, but pollinators.  The more flowers in your landscape, the more pollinators will visit.
  • Butterfly attracting plants - Salvia and lantana have long been planted in lanscapes for both their tolerance to heat and drought, but also because they are excellent at attracting butterflies!
  • Host plants - if you want butterflies to be around, you should consider planting both the plants the butterflies lay their eggs on and adult food (salvia and lantana)
    • Swallowtails - dill, parsley, fennel, citrus, pipevine
    • Monarchs - milkweed
    • Zebra and Fritillaries - passion flowers
Lantana
Salvia
Salvia



My new favorite plant is a yellow variety of the torch lily.  They are a hummingbird plant and attract a good number of pollinators.  Within seconds of planting these in my garden, I had three butterflies fly over to investigate!







Bottom line, just let things flower and the pollinators will come. If you don't have their food, don't expect them to enter your yard!  Enjoy your pollinators this Pollinator Week!














Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fire Ant Management


Rain brings fire ants... at least that's what people say.  Rain doesn't necessarily make fire ants more abundant - they were always there, they just weren't as noticeable.  When it rains, the ground becomes saturated and the fire ants move their colonies higher.  When they pop above the ground, you come across them more readily and its gives the impression that there are more and they are worse than during dry months.

Unless you have been treating regularly, I think its a pretty safe assumption that at least one mound in their yard.  I have many (way too many) mounds.  I find them when I'm weeding my garden, in my veggie beds, along the sidewalk, next to my newly planted fig tree, and in the smack middle of the yard.  They are huge, ugly, and ominous.  Not since my graduate days studying and digging up fire ant mounds have I had as many stings on my hands and feet!

So... what to do about them?  There are many options for fire ant control, so I'm going to give you the most common situation and my suggestions for control:

Fire Ants in Veggie Gardens.  You have limited options here and must be careful to read labels to make sure they are labeled for use around vegetables.  Boiling water and oils will work, but depending on how close that mound is to the plants, you may kill the roots.  I suggest Spinosad as either a drench or bait.  Both are labeled for use in vegetable gardens.

Fire Ants without Visible Mounds.  Baits are definitely the way to go here.  If you can't see the mound, you can't drench it properly.  Baits are taken back into the nest and fed to everyone, including the queen.  Baits may take up to 2 weeks to work, so be patient.

Fire Ants in Yards.  My suggestion for this is to treat individual mounds and follow up a couple of days later with a broadcast bait.  You will eliminate or at least reduce the size of the mounds you treat individually and the bait will help keep the populations down and knock out the mounds that you didn't see.

I'm Having a Party.... Tomorrow!  In this case, you want to use either a broadcast granule or individual mound treatments.... or both.  If the populations are super dense (like we are seeing right now), treat the individual mounds with a liquid drench or dust labeled for fire ants.  Then do a broadcast granule to provide a barrier to prevent new mounds from popping up and treat the unseen mounds you missed.

Long Term Fire Ant Management.  If you can't stand the emergency treatments and want to get on a regimen, baits are again the way to go.  If the populations are fairly low to begin with, you can treat every 6 months.  Treatments in the fall may result in no ants in the spring, in which case you can eventually drop back to once every 12 months.  If the mounds are pretty dense, you may need to treat once and then again in 6-8 weeks.  Then get back on the every 6 month routine.

As with all pesticide use - read the label first, apply only what is recommended, wear protective clothing, and don't overuse.  One reason I like baits is that food for the fire ants and they are attracted to it.  You end up applying less pesticide into the environment and usually get better and more long term results.  If in doubt of what to use, see if an bait is available
.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Spring of Caterpillars

Forest Tent Caterpillar
Photo by: G. McIlveen Jr.
This spring, it sure seems like we're experiencing more caterpillars than we have in the past.  There are two types of caterpillars on trees (seems more of the sightings are on oaks) you may encounter and what to do about them:

Forest Tent Caterpillars.  These guys do not actually make a tent, but they may appear to "wrap" your tree trunks with silk, while they hang out on the inside.  During spring, new growth means tender, juicy food for caterpillars.  While these guys will not damage the overall health of the trees, they may be a nuisance, unsightly, and may congregate in massive amounts on lawn furniture, fences, or other objects.


Oak Leaf Rollers.  It has been several years since these guys have exploded in massive populations, and while this year it isn't a huge explosion, I am getting some calls on them and seeing them drop from trees.  Oak leaf rollers rarely defoliate or even cause any noticeable defoliation of trees, but they are annoying.

Oak Leaf Rollers in oak trees
Photo by: Bart Drees
Oak leaf rollers are usually green in color with a black head. They drop from a single silk strand from trees when they are dislodged.  The silk can cover windows and cars, and when the populations are huge, it can make spending time outdoors unpleasant.

Should you feel the need to manage these caterpillars, they can be treated as any other caterpillar.  Bt and Spinosad are my two favorites.  Bt  is organic and specific to only caterpillars, you will not kill anything else but caterpillars, so be careful around your butterfly host plants.  Spinosad is also organic and may give you a faster knockdown.

I suspect these caterpillars will be around for another week or two, but they will soon die off on their own and treatment really isn't necessary.  Think of them as bluebonnets.  While there are a lot when there are a lot, they won't last long.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Termite Season

Termites are probably the most feared insect to humans ... especially homeowners.  They portray a vision of a house falling down, circus tent fumigations, a torn up yard, and major expense.  Your home is usually your greatest investment, so naturally, an teeny insect that hides underground and eats wood inside you home is a scary thing!
Subterranean termite mud tube and activity.

February and March are considered termite swarming season in Texas.  Although the weather has been up and down and its hard to predict when they may actually swarm, we have gone a few years without a good swarming season, and I imagine if not this year, at least next, will have some good swarms.

A termite swarm is when there is usually extreme humidity (often associated with rain) and the winged termites emerge from the nest to mate and start a new nest.  The females will become queens and start a new colony.

Termites are still active at all times of the year, not just during swarming season.  In fact, with the extra moisture and warmer weather, they are probably doing just great.  Cellulose material from stumps, buried logs, lumber, landscaping timber and firewood are all examples of food sources for termites that most of us have somewhere in the landscape.  The closer that is to your house, the more likely they are to start feeding on cellulose in the house.

The good news is that finding termites or termite damage should be mean that you need to take immediate action.  Take some time to get some BIDs and figure out the best management options for your situation.  You will know if the house is in danger of collapse!

For much more information about termites and management options, a fantastic webinar is being provided by Dr. Robert Puckett, an urban entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension on April 3rd at 1pm Central.  He has extensive experience in termite field and lab research.  Be sure to tune in for a rare opportunity to learn more about termites that you probably ever thought you would learn!

The link to the webinar is:
 https://learn.extension.org/events/1853#.VRQza8Zx0ag

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Backyard Basics EXPO

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is hosting an AMAZING program, Saturday March 28th at Madison High School.  This EXPO happens only once a year, and we pack the place to the gills!  We bring in specialists of all sorts of expertise to speak about various agricultural programs you can do in your own backyard: beekeeping, gardening, canning, aquaponics, rainwater harvesting, chickens and poultry and so much more.  There is something for everyone.  The presentations will go on throughout the day in concurrent sessions and vendors will be present to answer questions and/or sell goods (Alamo Area Beekeepers Association, Bexar County Master Gardeners, etc).  This EXPO is geared for those who garden, enjoy agriculture as hobby, and those who want some self-sustaining projects in their backyard.


If you are interested, we still have some spots.  Be sure to register at http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/BackyardBasics before the date of the event.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know

As I do every Spring and Fall, I will be hosting an educational program all about the "bugs" you can expect to encounter this spring in the garden and landscape.  See actual specimens along with pictures and be sure to bring any damage, pictures, or insects you need identified!


When - Tuesday, March 24th from 10am-12pm

Location - Bexar County Extension Office, 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208, SATX 78230

Cost - $10, payable at the door (credit cards not accepted)


Space is limited, please RSVP to Molly at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu or 210-467-6575


Monday, December 22, 2014

Cool Things Happening in Extension!

This may have nothing to do with insects, but Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is planning some pretty neat programs for 2015!

David Rodriguez, our horticulturist in Bexar County will be putting on a program about home brewing!  Backyard bees, chickens, gardening, canning and other self sustaining activities are of more and more interest to folks lately.  And now home brewing can certainly be added to the list.

Along with David, Joey Villarreal, Proprietor and Brewer of Blue Star Brewing Company, Todd Huntress, Operator of San Antonio Homebrew Supply & Home Brewer, and Bexar County Master Gardener and Home Brewer, Lou Kellogg will present this program on January 14th from 6:30-8:30pm.

The basics of what you need to know:
·         Held at Blue Star Brewing, The Blue Star Arts Complex, 1414 S. Alamo St, San Antonio, TX 78210.  
·         2 CEUs.  Fee: $20.
·         RSVP to Angel Torres 210 467-6575 or email matorres@ag.tamu.edu.  
·         Must be 21 years of age or older.