Monday, June 27, 2022

Chiggers, Ticks, and Wives' Tales


Horticulture Hotline 06/27/22

  Bill Lamson-Scribner


On the radio show this weekend (“The Garden Clinic” WTMA Noon – 1:00 PM), Mr. David Teas and I (The Super Garden Hero – Paul Mulkey was out trying on his new summer edition tights and cape) got a call about chiggers and with all the public service announcements about Lyme disease, I figure a mention about ticks is not a bad idea. Since deer carry the ticks that cause Lyme disease and we have a huge population of deer, a little prevention is always a good idea.


Chiggers and redbugs are in the Trombiculidae family.  They are a mite and not an insect so not all insecticides work on them.  They can be easily controlled with products that contain Carbaryl (Sevin) or Bifenthrin (Bug Blaster, Bifen).  Carbaryl and Bifenthrin will also kill ticks (not insects, eight legs like spiders), fleas and many other pests as a bonus.  Always read, understand and follow product labels.


The larva of the chigger is what bothers most people.  The larva will inject a fluid into the skin which breaks down cells of a person, and then the chigger ingests these cells.  Most people think chiggers burrow into the skin; however, this is an “old wives’ tale”. 


When I was young, and doing landscape jobs that started with clearing the lots, I would regularly be the dinner of this mite.  Back then, people would treat chiggers with nail polish thinking the mite was burrowed into the skin and this would suffocate the chiggers.  I later found out that I didn’t need to be walking around with pink and red nail polish all over me! 


Chigger larva can crawl around on you for several hours before attaching to your body.  While crawling around on you, if they hit a waist band of your underwear or the elastic area of your socks, instead of going under or around this barrier, they will usually latch on right there. A famous doctor and author once told me that when she goes into the woods, she doesn’t wear socks or underwear for this very reason – seems logical.  Chiggers also like warm moist areas. 


Using repellants that contain DEET on your clothing and exposed skin will prevent the chiggers from attaching to you.  There is an organic product called Liquid Net that is DEET free and all natural that might be worth trying.  It does not list chiggers on the label; however, it does list mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, no-see-ums, other biting insects.  If Liquid Net works against chiggers, it would be a good all-natural chemical-free alternative to DEET.   


Chiggers, like mole crickets, over-winter as adults in the soil.  Once it warms up, the adults lay eggs which hatch out into the larva.  The larva crawl around looking for about anything to feed on including rodents, birds, snakes, rabbits, toads and humans.  The larva then turns into a big red adult that can be seen on driveways or in the lawn.  The adults do not attack people. 


Mosquitoes, fleas, chinch bugs, dry areas, aphids, cottony cushion scales, poison ivy, rats…all seem to be big topics at Possum’s.


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

Monday, June 20, 2022

Those Hungry Beetles


Horticulture Hotline 06/20/22

By Bill Lamson-Scribner


The windy, dry spring has been absolutely crazy! Now, record-breaking temperatures as well! I have been so busy I missed that May was National Skin Cancer Month. Working in a field that is mostly outside in the sun, I have many friends dealing with sun cancer.


Dermatologist have come a long way in getting the word out about sun cancer. When I used to swim competitively for hours in the pool (morning practice, then noon – two, then evening practice), pick tomatoes on John’s Island for a quarter a bucket, work landscaping, and work construction, the only sun protection I used was when I swam, I used that white zinc oxide on my nose (and a Speedo! Many of you could do without that visual this morning!). Some people even used some coconut smelling Hawaiian Tropic oil to attract the sun! Now, it seems that sunscreen is much more popular. Shirts and gloves that protect you from the sun. Wide brim hats and face coverings are more popular. Protect yourself!


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 and rats to move inside for a little air conditioning (can you blame them?) and the calls are rolling in about chinch bugs 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. In the 1990’s, 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. Roses and Crepe Myrtles are some of their favorite plants.


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 or Sevin in late August or early September (if your grub populations warrant treating) or in April 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! Milky Spore is an organic option that seems to do a good job now that our grub population is high enough for the spores to have a steady food source.


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 eating your plants, use a good contact insecticide to kill them. Cyonara and EcoVia EC (National Organics Program Compliant) are two of the many products that will help control these beetles. 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. For this reason, place the traps away from the plants you are trying to protect.


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

Monday, June 13, 2022

Choosing a Contractor

Horticulture Hotline 06/13/22

By Bill Lamson-Scribner


While in Possum’s the other day, I was amazed we were already getting hit with the question, “who is a good lawn care company?”


I have been hit with some variation of this question a lot recently in different situations. Since we sell products to many different companies, it is best to ask your friends. We rarely see the end results of our customer’s applications to various yards. Also, we wouldn’t want you to be at a family reunion talking to your distant cousin that is also a good customer of ours, and say that Possum’s recommended a different company other than your distant cousin.


Lawn care companies can spray several different products to solve several different issues at once. In order to tank mix different control products, they need to make sure the products are compatible with each other.  Also, the lawn care applicator must calibrate the sprayer to make sure they are getting the proper amount of product out, in the given amount of square feet according to the product labels.  Knowing the correct amounts to put into the sprayer to control what you are trying to control is critical.  Does this all sound “Greek” to you?


A professional lawn service regularly mixes several control products together to control many issues in the lawn at one time.  They are licensed by the state to apply control products and they apply control products on a daily basis.  Many applicators have years of experience putting out products as well.   Most companies have different programs and they will either treat your yard on an “on call” basis, quarterly program, or complete yearly programs.  Check with the individual companies for what they have to offer. Just beware that if your yard is all green weeds and they kill all your weeds, then your yard will be brown. I have been told, “Bill, they came out and killed my yard!” When in reality the yard was weeds and they killed the weeds.


When choosing a lawn care company or any contractor, it is good to get references from neighbors and friends.  With lawn care companies, it is especially important to find one that is doing good work in your neighborhood.  Most applicators that work for a lawn care company have a route in a certain area and different applicators have different abilities and experience.  If you sign up with a company who is doing a good job at your neighbor’s two doors down, chances are you will get the same applicator that they have. Whereas if your friend from across town recommends a company, you might be assigned an applicator with more experience or less experience – a little bit of a gamble.


One thing to remember, even though your house is right next to another house, the results of lawn care can be totally different because of sun / shade patterns. Trees and the way your house is positioned on your lot can greatly affect the way the grass grows. A sunny yard is best for good grass growth. The type of grass and soil could vary as well.


Japanese beetles, chinch bugs, mosquitoes, grass eating worms, gray leaf spot, fleas, flies, wasps, termite swarmers, fire ants and rats – ahh summertime!