Monday, June 28, 2010

The hose muderer, Sucking bugs

With the strange weather we are having, the sucking bugs are coming out in big numbers.
Mites and lace bugs have sucked much valuable plant juices from our ornamental shrubs and trees, and “the nasty rascal, the chinch bug” has been fooling folks once again with its summertime reign of terror.

Before I get into the horticulture part of the article, I have to tell you a little garden story. Saturday morning, I put out some Tirade (an insecticide for chinch bugs, fleas, fire ants, roaches and many other insects) and fertilizer (a smelly concoction that is a mixture of organic fertilizer and multiple slow release fertilizers as well as iron) on my St. Augustine grass.

As I was getting ready to water in the products, I noticed my hose (a beautiful hose that is built like a tire with multiple layers, been with me for 18 years, teal green, and comes with a life time warranty) had been slashed by the dreaded lawn mower – the worst nightmare of any hose. Knowing that I had three potential suspects, all of whom would deny any such brutal, cold blooded, slashing, I came up with a story of how I hated the hose and was waiting to buy a new one. I offered a 100 dollar reward for the person that pushed the mower over my hated hose and gave me the opportunity to purchase a new hose after all these years.

All of the sudden the greedy smile like that of The Grinch came across the lips of one of my suspects, I knew who ran over my precious hose and brutally murdered the innocent watering device that had faithfully delivered water to my plants, trees, vegetables, hanging baskets and turf for so many years.

Then the na├»ve, inquisitive, yet damning question, “I get 100 bucks for running over your hose?” belted out the unsuspecting guilty party. My plan worked!!

Molted leaves on trees and plants indicate plant suckers. Azaleas and Lantana have been nailed by lace bugs. Mites have been attacking many plants including willow oaks. You can use a “beat sheet” to identify these pests. Put a white sheet of paper (a legal pad works best) between the branches and slam the foliage from above down unto the paper. Look for insects or mites running across the paper. Also look for fecal matter, egg casings, or the insect itself on the underside of the leaves.

If you have mites, use a miticide and if you have insects use an insecticide. Some insecticides kill mites; however, not all insecticides do.

“The nasty rascal, the chinch bug” is out sucking on St. Augustine lawns throughout the Lowcountry. Often confused with fungus or just a dry area, these little suckers can ruin a beautiful lawn, quick. Notorious for their summer time visits while the homeowner is enjoying a family vacation these leaches can weaken a large area and allow weeds (usually the dreaded Bermuda grass) to take over in under a week’s time.

Chinch bugs start in the hottest, driest part of the yard first, and they rapidly spread across the lawn. There are many products that will control them easily once correctly identified. A combination of Tirade and Grubz Out seems to be a one two punch that extends the length of your control. If you are planning a vacation, I strongly suggest you put out some protection before you leave town.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lowcountry Weather and Summer Insects (spiders)

Mosquitoes, roaches, fleas, flies, chinch bugs, wasps, spiders, spittlebugs, and mice have become much more visible with the hot weather. Localized pop up thunder storms have dominated our weather, so there is no telling how much rain we are getting across the area as a whole.

With three Possum stores in the area, I get a regular dose of how crazy our weather is in the Lowcountry. Possum’s West (West Ashley) might get an inch of rain, Possum’s North (North Charleston) might get a “spit” and Possum’s East (Mt. Pleasant) nothing at all. It is amazing how the waterways affect the weather patterns.

The Lowcountry is one area that a rain gauge is a must. Rain gauges come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very expensive and record your rainfall, and others are very basic and are less than five dollars. You can make your own “rain gauge” very easily from anything that has an equal top diameter and bottom diameter. Soup cans, tuna fish cans, a coffee cup, or an empty can of canned possum (the other white meat) make great rain gauges. Be sure to place your rain gauge in an area where your house or trees are not going to skew your results.

Over the weekend while I was smoking some vittles on my grill, I was surveying the yard for potential mosquito breeding sites. We have this roll around basketball hoop in the driveway that requires water in the base to stabilize it. Of course someone lost the cap to the place you add water and now there is a great place for mosquitoes to breed. The slightest dent on my trash can lid also collects water where there were mosquito larva. Then there is the obvious tire that needs a rim to become a spare tire. I keep 3 sizes of measuring cups on a window sill near the hose where I mix up my “solutions” for killing weeds, fungus, and insects around the house. Rainwater had got in them, and you guessed it – more mosquito larvae. Oh yeah, the rain gauge had mosquito larvae in it as well. Always empty out your rain gauge!

With all the insects that are active in the yard Cyonara Lawn and Garden Concentrate is an excellent product with a very broad label and a low price point. Cyonara is labeled to spray the outside of your house to keep roaches in check and even your vegetable garden, so you know it is safe. If you prefer organic products, EcoPCO WP-X might be more to your liking.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles have emerged from the ground and are munching down on our ornamental plants like there is no tomorrow, leaving behind lacelike foliage everywhere they dine. The warm weather has also caused the cockroach to move inside for a little air conditioning (can you blame them?) and the calls are rolling in about chinch bugs, flies and fleas.

Japanese Beetles come out of the ground here around the beginning of June (as you probably noticed) as beetles. In parts of the country, they are the number one damaging insect to ornamentals, and they seem to be gaining a stronghold in the Lowcountry. As recent as five years ago, I can remember talking to friends in Charlotte whose plants were getting devastated by this ferocious eater, and they would say how lucky we were not to have them down here in the Lowcountry.

Once the Japanese Beetles come out of the ground, they eat and mate. A female returns to the ground to deposit between 40 and 60 eggs (you can see how the populations can grow rapidly). The female beetle must burrow in the ground to lay eggs and the eggs need moisture to survive. A well irrigated landscape is a lot easier for the beetle to dig in than a dry, hard, area. The adult beetle dies off and the eggs turn into grubs over the summer. By mid to late August the grub is full grown and overwinters in the soil. In late May to early June the adult (beetle) emerges again and the life cycle starts over.

The grubs from this beetle damage grass and other plants by eating the roots. Using a product like Grubz Out in late August or early September (if your grub populations warrant treating) will help your turf; however, do not fool yourself into thinking all your beetle problems will be solved. The adult beetle can fly for miles to chow on your precious ornamentals!

Using a ground drench systemic insecticide in the early spring like Dominion will help protect your plants, and you might get lucky and kill a few grubs while you are drenching! Once the beetles are on your plant there are many good contact insecticides that you can use to kill them as well as some organic controls. Since contact insecticides have limited residual activity, plan to reapply the product according to the label.

Traps for Japanese Beetles are a little controversial. The attractants they use (one is a virgin female beetle scent) can lure more beetles to an area than the trap can trap! Many ornamentals on the way to the trap and near the trap can suffer extensive damage.

Roaches, fleas, flies, mice, and chinch bugs are becoming uninvited guest in many homes and yards. Are you protected from these unwelcome guests?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gray Leaf Spot, Japanese Beetles, E-Mails

With the recent rain and pop up thunderstorms, gray leaf spot and other diseases have been flourishing in the area. Japanese Beetles (June Beetles) have also gone to town on our ornamentals, eating up our foliage like the Spoleto people are eating up salads at our local restaurants!

Gray leaf spot (Pyricularia grisea) goes with St. Augustine like grits go with shrimp! Or like chinch bugs go with St. Augustine! To battle gray leaf spot you are best employing many cultural practices and using limited control products if necessary.

Gray leaf spot looks like someone burned or dripped acid on the leaves of the plant. There are little oblong spots on the leaf. Eventually, these spots grow together and the leaf blade dies. Whole areas of your grass can disappear at once when these leaf blades die.

Culturally there are several things to do to minimize your problem with gray leaf spot. This disease likes high humidity and excessive nitrogen fertilizer. To help alleviate the high humidity, mow your grass to a level that seems abnormal to St. Augustine. Try to get it down to 2 ½ - 3 inches depending on the variety of St. Augustine grass. Also try to mow every 3 – 5 days with a bagger. This mowing will help get sunlight down to the crown of the plant, drying the leaf blades as quickly as possible. Always use a sharp mower blade.

This fungus like most fungi likes hot humid weather. Minimize the amount you water as much as possible. Wait until your lawn is getting a blue/green color and your foot prints stay in the lawn after you walk across it before you water. Unfortunately, you can not control rainfall as easily. In the Lowcountry, afternoon thunderstorms are a way of life, so keep the grass mowed as low as you can so it will dry out quickly.

Since the Lowcountry dries out very quickly when the rain stops, the use of a wetting agent like Aqueduct will help reduce supplemental watering. Using wetting agents also helps reduce the amount of dew that remains on the leaf blade. Dew can really make diseases spread. In the late 1980’s while I was working on Hilton Head, on golf course greens we would go out with a dew whip to get the dew off the leaf blades of the grass. A dew whip is a very long fiberglass pole that would slide across the top of the grass, knocking the dew off of the blades of grass.

Hold off of the nitrogen fertilizer until you can get this disease under control. If you need some color you could add a product like Possum’s Minors to give you some green without all the nitrogen. A healthy lawn is less apt to get diseased and recovers quicker from any pests that might damage it. Having a soil test done and following a program to get the nutrients that the test recommends is an easy step that you can take to improve the overall appearance and health of your yard. Do you need potassium, magnesium?

If you have to resort to a control product, make sure the product is labeled for Pyricularia grisea. There are many leaf spot diseases on labels of control products but only certain ones work on gray leaf spot on St. Augustine. We had one customer come in that had been applying a product that controlled Drechslera spp. and Biopolaris spp. leaf spot; however, the product was not labeled for Pyricularia grisea (watch where you shop).

Honor Guard and Heritage are systemic products that you spray. Since this is a leaf spot fungus, the sprays seem to give good coverage over the leaf blade. If you insist on a granular product, Prophesy (same active as Honor Guard and Banner), or Dual Action Plus Fungicide (same active as Heritage) are granular systemic products that will do a good job for you. Always read and follow product label.

I’m already over my column inches for the week, so I guess Japanese Beetles can wait until next week. At the three Possum stores we send out e-mails to people on our e-mail list when we get an outbreak of insects or disease, are having gardening talks, or any other relative information. Just go by the store and sign up – that easy – and it is free! We also promise to protect your privacy and not bombard your inbox. We also post updates on our website (