Posted in Horticulture

Uninvited House Guests

You are sitting at home and all of a sudden a little gray rodent with relatively large ears and small black eyes scurries across the room!   It is about 1/2 ounce in weight and if an adult 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches long, including its 3 – 4 inch tail.  Of course, you must know by now that I am describing a house mouse.  The house mouse is considered one of the most troublesome and economically important rodents in the United States.  They can cause damage to property and transmit diseases such as salmonellosis and swine dysentery.  You will know you have mice if you see small droppings, fresh gnaw marks and mouse nests made from fine shredded paper or other fibrous material.  They are active mostly at night, but can occasionally be seen during daylight hours.  Mice are excellent climbers and can jump up 12 inches from the floor to a flat surface; they can squeeze through openings slightly larger than 1/4 inch in diameter.

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Sanitation, mouse-proof construction, and population reduction allow for effective control of mice.  Mice cannot survive in large numbers if they have few places to rest, hide, or build nests; however a few mice can survive with limited amounts of food and shelter. Proper sanitation is an important step to control mice.  Most buildings that handle food will have problems with mice not matter how clean they are, but the house should be mouse-proofed.   To mouse-proof a house, eliminate all openings larger than 1/4 inch.  Steel wool can be used as a temporary plug; cracks in building foundations and openings for water pipes, vents, etc. can be sealed with metal or concrete.  Doors and windows should fit tightly.  Cover doors and windows with metal to prevent gnawing.  Latex, plastic, rubber, and wood are unsuitable for plugging holes.

Once you find mice in your house, traps can be used to control the population.  The advantages of traps are 1) it does not rely on hazardous rodenticides, 2) it permits the user to view his/her success, and 3) it allows for disposal of trapped mice therefore eliminating dead mouse odors that may occur when poisoning is done.  Peanut butter works great to put on traps because it is easy to use and very attractive to mice.  Simple inexpensive wood-based snap traps are effective, as well as glue traps.  Glue traps must not be in extreme temperatures and can lose their effectiveness over time with dust collecting on them.  Whatever traps, you decide to use, be sure to set them behind objects, in dark corners, and in places where evidence of mouse activity is seen.

For more information on mouse control, refer to NebGuide, Controlling House Mice that can be accessed at or through your local extension office.

Posted in Horticulture

Proper Tree Planting

Some of the most common questions we receive in the office on an ongoing basis is related to trees. Whether trees appear to be dying, stressed or have a pest problem, sometimes there is nothing that can be done and in fact many times the issue is environmentally related or beyond treatment. That being said, if you do have to replace a tree or are looking to add a new tree to your landscape be sure to get your tree off to a great start by properly planting the tree. Recently Nicole Stoner, a horticulture educator presented a hands-on workshop teaching how to plant a tree. Many people think, dig a hole, put the tree in and that’s it. While that is essentially the case, the depth and techniques used will impact that tree’s life 5-10 years down the road. Many trees are planted incorrectly so let’s examine the proper techniques.


First, select the best type of tree for your situation. Be well informed on the height and spread of the tree and look all around ensuring it won’t interfere with power-lines or crowd nearby plants. Check the adaptability for the tree; is it well-suited for your area? Is it susceptible to pests? One of the fun parts of selecting trees or plants of any kind is the color and shape of it, pick what you like and look for diversity from your own landscape and the landscapes of many of your neighbors.

Then, when preparing the site, be sure the soil is adequate for the plant. If you are planting in an area for the first time and unsure of your soil quality you can submit a sample to a lab for analysis of the pH and nutrient content. Next, is digging the hole. It is not recommended to add any soil amendments to the hole. Soil amendments can make it more difficult for the roots to move through the amended soils and into the natural soils of the area which can cause the roots to circle and eventually girdle and kill the tree. Dig the hole only as deep as the soil ball of the tree. If dug too deep, the roots will suffocate. The hole should be two to three times the diameter of the tree’s root ball. Also, do NOT dig it deeper than needed and backfill it with loose soil; most likely the tree will settle to the bottom over time and then be planted too deep. Instead, place the soil on undistributed soil.

Then, take the tree out of the container and break up the roots if they are started to circle the pot or are girdled. Then, fill the hole with soil, trying to break it up so the hole has relatively loose soil surrounding the side of the tree’s root ball. Gently pat the hole; do not pack or stomp the hole. Depending on the height of the tree, decide if it needs to be staked. If it is leaning over, it obviously will need support until the roots are able to anchor it. Be sure to use a softer material such as tree staking straps; you should never use a wire or something abrasive that could damage or cut into the bark. It is also important to remove the stakes within a year of planting the tree.

Mulch is very important for the tree as well. Be sure to put down an organic source of mulch such as woodchips. Mulch aides in weed control, conserving moisture and can also regulate the temperature of the soil. Mulch should be no deeper than 2 to 3 inches but should be as wide as acceptable to the tree owner. Then be sure to water the tree well at least once a week with a slow trickle for 20 minutes if no rain occurs, but don’t overwater. Consider using a 5-gallon bucket or tub with drilled holes near the bottom as a cost-effective drip irrigation method.

If you have any additional questions you can contact Nicole Stoner at Gage County Extension (402)223-1384 or by email at

Posted in Horticulture, Programming

Tree Grant

img_0203.jpgNebraska Extension- Fillmore County received a grant for ten free trees through the ReTree Nebraska program. This grant was funded by Trees for Nebraska Towns and the Sustainable Schoolyard Partnership programs by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Forest Service’s Community Marketing of Trees grant funded by the U.S. Forest Service. As part of the grant, educational outreach to increase public awareness of the benefits of trees and proper tree care was done with a workshop conducted by Nicole Stoner, horticulture extension educator in which I assisted. Seven trees were planted at the courthouse lawn and three trees were planted at the Extension Office and Fillmore County East Building.

Posted in Horticulture, Programming

Tree Planting & Care Workshop


Need a new tree in your landscape? Then come to the tree planting workshop to learn how to properly plant it. Planting a Tree is essential to the life and health of the tree. Nebraska Extension Educator Nicole Stoner, from Gage County Extension will give a hands-on presentation of proper tree planting. The workshop will be held at 5:00 pm on Thursday, October 12th at the Fillmore County Courthouse in Geneva. Ten trees were donated to Fillmore County Extension from ReTree Nebraska to help renew the trees at the Courthouse and Extension Office. We will be planting these 10 trees at the workshop. The workshop will cover how to properly plant a tree, staking needs and methods, and general management for newly planted and established trees including watering, mulching, and winter protection. Registration is not required and the program is free.

If you have any additional questions you can contact Nicole Stoner at Gage County Extension (402)223-1384 or by email at

Posted in Horticulture

Fall Pests


This time of year, we often receive questions on a variety of pests, especially “bugs” entering homes or around the house. Extension horticulturalist, Elizabeth Killinger provides great information how to prepare your house to keep these invaders from living in your house.

Some of the more common nuisance pests include occasional invaders like boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian Lady Beetles, millipedes, and crickets.  These pests don’t do any harm once inside the home; they are just looking for a cozy place to spend the winter.

Proper identification of the insect will assure the proper control method.  Boxelder bugs are black and orange true ‘bugs’ that can be found in large numbers around foundations sunning themselves or trying to find their way inside. Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles are the orange ‘lady bugs’ with black spots.  Their distinct smell and ability to bite makes them even more of a nuisance once inside the home.  Millipedes are often misidentified as ‘wire worms.’  These skinny, brown critters have two legs per body segment and will curl up when disturbed.  Crickets hop their way into homes and provide ‘music’ in the night with their chirping.  Commonly it’s the black field cricket that migrates inside, but there are others that follow right behind.

Wolf spiders may look scary, but they are more bark than bite.  These large, hairy spiders can be found both outdoors and occasionally inside the home.  They are not poisonous nor do they want to disturb people.  They are hunting spiders, so they don’t spin a web or a trap, but prefer to chase down their prey.  They often find their way into homes in the fall following their favorite food source the cricket.


The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has never been more true.  Discouraging occasional invaders from entering the house is going to take a little work, but it will be worth it in the long run.  Start by finding and sealing up any cracks or spaces they could enter through with silicone caulk or expanding foam.  Make sure that window screens are in good repair and that doors are tight fitting.  Also remove any dead plant debris from window wells.

Pests can be discouraged from entering the house in a number of ways.  The most common way is by applying an outdoor perimeter insecticide treatment.  These insecticides are labeled for various pests and often times have residual effects to help protect the house for longer.  Read and follow the label instructions on how and where these products should be applied.  Ideally, try to apply these insecticides out from the foundation about five to ten feet around the perimeter of the home. The insecticides will help to decrease the numbers of pests that make it inside the house, but don’t expect it to stop all of them.

Monitor the home regularly to see what pests have made their way inside.  Glue boards are sticky boards used to catch and hold pests as they try to move throughout the home.  Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals, like pets, won’t get stuck in them.  If something other than the target pest does happen to get ‘caught’ in the trap, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance on the trap.  When properly placed, these traps will allow you to see which pests are inside the home and their approximate numbers.

Once pests are found inside the home, there are a few techniques that you can use. The handy broom and dust pan or the vacuum are two techniques; they are also very environmentally friendly and very cost effective.  Be careful when selecting insecticides for use inside the home.  Read and follow instructions carefully as many of these products have to come into contact with the insect themselves and don’t offer much residual protection.

With a little prevention and monitoring you can ensure that you are sharing your home with wanted house guests this fall and winter.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at

Posted in Horticulture

Fall Tree Update

evergreentree.jpegExtension Educator, Kelly Feehan provided some good tips regarding trees which is listed below. The first is a question we usually receive on trees in fall/winter is yellowing of needles on evergreens. Kelly reminds us that this is a natural occurrence and we will soon see natural needle yellowing and dropping on evergreens like white pines and spruce.  This is a process where 2- to 4-year-old interior needles turn yellow, then brown, and eventually drop off.  Needle yellowing occurs throughout the interior of an evergreen from top to bottom.  For tree owners, not familiar with natural needle drop, this sudden yellowing is a concern. However, this is as natural for evergreens as fall coloring is for shade trees. The only difference is it only occurs heavily every 3 to 5 years in evergreens instead of yearly. It is natural and does not harm the tree. Check that only older, inner needles are affected. If needles on branch tips are affected, or needles that are dropping have spots or red bands on them, this could be a sign of a disease and a sample could be brought to the local Extension office for diagnosis and determine if a fungicide application might be needed next spring.

Also, if the leaves of shade trees and shrubs are off-color or have leaf spots, browning, or holes chewed into them; and you’re thinking about applying a pesticide for control, think again. Keep in mind the leaves of shade trees and shrubs will soon be naturally dropping from plants; so, is it necessary to apply a pesticide now to protect leaves that will soon be dead? Tree and shrub leaves have basically done their photosynthesis job for the year. Leaf buds for next year are formed; and photosynthetic products are stored in woody tissue for next year’s growth. Other than aesthetics, minor leaf diseases and insect chewing is not very harmful to trees and shrubs this late in the season; but a pesticide application can kill beneficial insects such as pollinators.  If the damage is unacceptable, or has occurred more than one year in a row, positively identify the cause of damage to help determine if and when control may be needed next season.

Posted in Horticulture, Programming


IMG_8962.jpgThe office has received numerous questions regarding the abundance of butterflies (most of what I’ve seen are Painted Lady butterflies) in the area.  An extension entomologist told me the following: “It is hard to pinpoint reasons these insects survive and flourish better in one year over another.  Painted Lady butterflies overwinter in southern areas of the country and migrate north in the spring.  They have a broad food host range which includes thistle plants.  If any of these food sources are abundant, the weather is favorable and natural enemy populations are minimal, the butterflies can grow and develop quite successfully.  This results in the high population that we are seeing now.” Hopefully this answers questions you might have. Butterfly information can be found at