Posted in Horticulture

Holiday Greenery and Trees 

Deciding on an artificial versus real Christmas tree is a matter of personal preference. Growing up, we had an artificial tree mostly because my mom’s allergies were very sensitive to the smell of pines and our house was pretty small so having a small tree we knew would fit in our dining room was preferred. We did however one year have a pine tree that we cut out of our windbreak that needed to come down and I remember how big, beautiful and magical it was!  There are pros to cons for both. If you decide to go real, here are some tips to help you.

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Popular Christmas tree species include Frasier Fire, Balsam Fire, Douglas Fir, Scotch Pine, Black Hills Spruce (White Spruce variant) and Eastern White Pine. Firs have a strong and pleasant smell most people enjoy while spruces have a strong odor but many folks do not find it as pleasant. Also look at the needle sizes and branch strength depending on what type of ornaments you will place on the tree. Firs usually have short needles and strong branches, while pines often bend with the weight of heavy ornaments.

Once you make your tree selection, clean it thoroughly from needles lodged among the branches. Make a fresh straight cut across the trunk about an inch from the original cut which will open the stem for water intake. The Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association also recommends to keep the water level above the fresh cut; if the water level drops below the fresh cut a seal will form as it does on fresh flowers and a new cut will be necessary.  When purchasing a tree, you can drive to a “Choose and Cut” Tree Farm and pick out your own tree, or many retailers also sell them. Just be sure and find one that is fresh. To locate a “Choose and Cut” tree farm, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s website has a list of locations to choose.

If you don’t want a real tree, you can also make or purchase your own greenery from your own landscape. Nicole Stoner, extension horticulturist wrote a blog on “Holiday Plants” and provided suggestions for using greenery to bring a nice holiday scent inside the home. White pine, juniper, spruce, ivy and holly are all great choices of live greenery for your home this holiday season. You can take these directly from your landscape, just be careful when you prune these decorations off of your living plants. Don’t make all of cuts in the same location and try to make them far enough back in the plant that the other branches cover the cuts. Use a hand pruner to make good cuts that will not harm your tree or shrub. These can then be used in swags or wreaths. Several years ago, I even participated in a workshop that took real branches to make outdoor arrangements in pots when watered well.

Posted in Horticulture

Do you have uninvited houseguests?  

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 10 inches from the floor to a flat surface; they can squeeze through openings slightly larger than 1/4 inch in diameter.  They can also survive a 9-foot drop and climb up most vertical surfaces.

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Exclusion is the most common in the fight against house mice.  Prevent mice from entering buildings by eliminating openings that are 1/4” or larger.  Use sealants or mortar to help fill the gaps.  Spray-in-place foams and steel wool pads will fill the gaps, but they won’t do much to stop mice from entering.  Make sure doors, windows and screens fit tightly.  Cover the edges of doors and windows with metal to prevent gnawing.

Population reduction is the last method for controlling mice.  Traps and baits are two common population reduction methods.  To ensure success with traps, you need to use a sufficient number of traps in areas where mice are living.  Snap traps or multiple-capture traps can be used to capture mice.  Double setting snap traps, placing two traps close to each other, will yield the best results in situations with high activity.  Multi-catch traps can catch several mice at a time without resetting.  Glue boards are another alternative to traps.  These sticky boards catch and hold mice as they try to move throughout the home.  Be sure to use sticky boards in locations where non-target animals or items won’t get stuck in them.  If this does happen, use an oily material, like vegetable or mineral oil, to dissolve the sticky substance.  To make the traps more appealing you can apply a food source such as peanut butter or a chocolate chip melted to the trigger or you can secure a cloth scented with a food source to the traps’ trigger.

Baits are another population reduction method.  Be sure to read and follow all directions on baits.  When choosing baits, consider the location and method of applications and any non-target pets and children.  Choose the type of bait for your specific location and application.  Mice have been known to move pelleted baits without eating them.  Just because you have an empty box, doesn’t mean they have eaten the bait.  Bait stations or bait blocks ensure that the critter actually ate the bait.

Use caution when cleaning up droppings, nests, or mouse remains.   This can help to decrease the potential spread of diseases carried by mice like Hantavirus.  Use protective waterproof gloves and spray the carcass and trap or nest with a household disinfectant or a 10% bleach solution. Use a sealable bag turned inside out to pick up the mouse.  To remove feces or urine, spray the area with a disinfectant until wet and wipe up with a towel, rag or mop.  Don’t use the vacuum or broom to collect dry feces as that can cause the material to go into the air and be inhaled.

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

Posted in Horticulture

Insect Invaders

With cool temperatures, pests start seeking shelter for warm places like your house, so this week I’m sharing information on keeping these pests out of your house.

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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 ‘ladybugs’ 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.

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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 dustpan 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.

Posted in Horticulture

Fall Lawn Care Reminders

The kids are back in school, the first Husker football game will start in a couple of weeks – it is officially fall! During this time of year, it is an ideal time to seed the cool season turfgrasses tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. For all of you horticulture enthusiasts, be sure to follow Nicole Stoner, extension educator focused in horticulture’s blog or go to Nebraska Extension’s Hort Update newsletter.

This week, I took some of the lawn tips from August 19th edition of Hort Update on site preparation for lawn seeding or over seeding. For success, seedbed preparation is important to assure seed to soil contact.

For newly planted turf, complete the following steps:

1). Remove all construction debris, branches, etc.
2). Control perennials weeds with glyphosate (Roundup). Two to three applications at the recommended timing may be needed.
3). Establish grade for proper surface drainage.
4). Use a rotary tiller or other cultivation equipment to work the soil to a depth of six inches, incorporate compost while tilling. Avoid tillage of wet soil as this creates compaction. Do not try to improve clay soil by tilling in sand as this can increase compaction. For clay soils, spread a one inch layer of compost over the site and till it in. Then spread another one inch layer and till perpendicular to the first tillage.
5). Allow soil to settle after tilling and prior to seeding.
6). Keep the soil moist after seeding.

To over seed your lawn, complete the following:

1). Mow the area 1 to 1.5 inches tall.
2). If there is excess thatch, one-half inch thick or more, power rake aggressively and removed debris.
3). Aerify the area, punching 20 to 40 holes per sq. ft. with the largest tines available. Make at least two to three passes over the area to be seeded.
4). Apply a starter fertilizer.
5). Seed using a drop spreader or power overseeder (slit or slicer seeder).
6). Keep the soil moist.

Fall is also a great time to fertilize cool season grasses. Elizabeth Killinger, extension educator reminds us that cool season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue, are beginning to wake up from the summer slump and are vigorously growing.  Actively growing turf means the perfect time to apply fertilizer applications.  Fertilizing in mid-September encourages new vegetative growth, like tillers, rhizomes, and stolons, which help fill in those thin areas left behind by disease or summer stress and increase density of the turf.  September fertilization also encourages root production and making of products that will be stored in the plants’ crown.  A turfgrass that has ample stored ‘food’ reserves will be better able to survive winters’ stresses.

Posted in Horticulture

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are a huge irritation in the summer months. Mosquitoes are a type of insect that is in the same order as flies, which means they are closely related to flies and gnats, which all tend to bother us. Mosquitoes are also vectors of many different diseases. Because of these factors, we need to do what we can to eliminate the problem and reduce mosquito populations.

animal antenna biology bite
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The best way to avoid any pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes is to prevent being bitten. Like any pest management program, IPM is the strategy that works best to prevent mosquito bites at home in the yard. Sanitation is a must to eliminate breeding sites and harborage locations of mosquitoes. Female mosquitoes lay eggs on the surface of standing water and the larvae (“wigglers”) require water to survive before pupation. Removal of stagnant water in a variety of containers such as flowerpots, buckets, gutters, pool covers, used tires, and dog bowls will break the mosquito life cycle. A general rule is to dump any water that has been standing for more than five days.

Culex mosquitoes are active biters in the evening, so it is important to wear long sleeves and pants or permethrin-treated clothing when outdoors between dusk and dawn. The effective insect repellents applied to skin include those with the active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.

As far as chemical control, Mosquito Dunks contain the active ingredient bacterium, Bacillus thurengiensis israelensis (Bti), which is toxic to mosquito larvae when consumed, but non-toxic to humans, pets, pollinators, fish, and other wildlife. They are sold in hardware stores, and will dissolve in standing water such as water troughs, fishponds, rain barrels, and birdbaths. They are effective immediately and can last for a month. (We have mosquito dunks in our Extension office free from Public Health Solutions.)

It is not recommend to use foggers or adulticide treatments by homeowners. These treatments are not effective for more than a couple of days and should only be used a few days ahead of a large outdoor get-together if absolutely necessary.

It is best to utilize IPM to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes because they spread many diseases including West Nile Virus and the Zika virus. Most people who get West Nile Virus have no symptoms or have flu-like symptoms. However, from 2001 to 2009 1,100 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to West Nile Virus. Most of the deaths occurred in people ages 65 and older.

As for the Zika Virus, it has been known about since 1947, but has just recently hit the news as it spreads more. Zika does appear to have minimal impacts on adult humans, but if a pregnant woman becomes infected, her fetus may suffer from developmental abnormalities such as microcephaly. The good news is that the main mosquito that transmits Zika isn’t in Nebraska. The mosquito that most commonly transmits zika to humans is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. We are not on high alert for Zika in Nebraska, but it is still a good idea to protect yourself from mosquito bites to reduce the chance of West Nile and other mosquito vectored diseases.

Information for this article came from Nicole Stoner, Drs. Jody Green and Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension Educators.

Posted in Horticulture, Programming

Lawn & Garden Tips

Some of the most frequent calls we receive in our office is lawn and garden questions. Nebraska Extension horticulturist, Nicole Stoner will be in the area with the program, “Lawn & Garden Tips”. This class will discuss water use in your lawn, problems that develop from improper irrigation and diseases found in lawns and vegetable gardens. The course will be in Geneva at the Fillmore County Extension Office on Wednesday, June 5th from 6-7:30 p.m. with a $5.00 which includes light refreshments. Preregister by May 29th to 402-759-3712 or brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu.

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