March 29, 2011
"Browning on pines and other evergreens are very noticeable right now in central Illinois," according to Rhonda Ferree, Extension Educator in Horticulture. Although it is unsightly, in most cases the browning is not a major cause for concern. Fortunately in most instances, the problem is probably due to winter injury and the plant will recover.
Evergreens that are susceptible to winter browning, also called desiccation, include white pines, spruce, fir and arborvitae. All over the plant you will see needles turning brown and in severe situations the entire plant will turn brown.
Winter desiccation on evergreens is due to the loss of moisture from the winter sun. The green color of the needles heats up beyond the ambient air temperature and the frozen soil cannot send water through the root system. Openings in the plant's needles (called pores) open and moisture vapor leaves the needles. If the plant cannot take up water from the frozen soil to replace what is lost through the needles, the needles turn brown.
Ferree recommends that if you see browning on your evergreens, check the plant buds. If they are green and pliable, there is a chance that the plant will revive. If buds are crisp and brown, you have probably lost that portion or the entire plant. Don't prune out branches or cut down the tree too soon. Wait until you see other plants of the same type green up and see what life returns to your plant. If still brown, removal is recommended. A dead tree can serve as a host to many pest problems and should be destroyed. On the other hand, if the buds are green and pliable, the buds are likely not adversely affected and the plants will regreen within the brown area.
This problem is common on young trees, especially if they were planted recently. If the damaged evergreen is located near a road or sidewalk, it could have been exposed to de-icing salts. Salt damage is very similar to general winter desiccation, but is usually one-sided. If not too severe, plants can also recover from salt injury.
There are insects and disease problems that can also damage evergreen plants. Since we are seeing needle browning on a wide variety of evergreen plants, a specific disease or insect problem can typically be ruled out. However, if an evergreen has had brown needles since last fall it could be an insect or disease problem. Proper identification of the main problem is important to determine if and when control is needed.
To prevent evergreen browning next winter, follow these simple tips. Be sure landscape plants, especially evergreens, go into the winter with plenty of soil moisture. Often deep fall watering is recommended. For high value plants, an anti-desiccant can be sprayed on the foliage to reduce moisture loss. To be effective, these products need to be applied according to label direction two to three times during winter.
For more information on this or other plant problems, contact your local Extension office. Find your local office by visiting www.extension.illinois.edu. You can also post questions on Rhonda's new facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferree.horticulture
Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Associate Regional Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
March 28, 2011
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it has warned more than 2,800 customers across the United States about risks associated with a banned pesticide in an ant-control product they purchased online through fastpestcontrol.com. The product, Fast Ant Bait, contained mirex, a pesticide that was banned in 1978 because it can cause liver, skin, reproductive and nerve damage.
"Illegal pesticides are often much more toxic than approved pesticides," said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. "When EPA takes a pesticide off the market, it means that pesticide was not safe. Consumers should use only EPA-registered pesticides and always follow the label directions to ensure their safety."
EPA became aware of the product after the Washington State Department of Health reported that a woman became ill after using it in her home. In response, EPA identified and warned three online companies, 2Checkout.com Inc., CCNow, Inc. and eBay Inc. to cease processing orders for the product that was produced and mailed from China. The three companies cooperated, immediately ceased processing orders and consumers can no longer purchase products from fastpestcontrol.com, the original site that offered the product for sale. The companies also worked with EPA to provide sales information, which allowed the agency to contact customers directly about the dangers posed by the pesticide and proper disposal methods.
The letter EPA sent to customers who bought the product provides detailed directions on how to safely clean up and dispose of the illegal product and what to do if they believe they were exposed or harmed. For more information on mirex or other pesticides, consumers can call the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Information Center at 1-888-422-8737 or the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 1-800-858-7378.
To view a copy of the letter: http://www.epa.gov/region10/pdf/publications/notice_to_fastpestcontrol_customers_02_09_2011.pdf
Information on using pesticides safely: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/health/safely.htm
March 11, 2011
With warmer weather predicted, gardeners are itching to get into their gardens, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"So grab your shovel, rake and hoe and get ready for spring with the following tips," Ron Wolford urged.
Save the mesh bags that oranges come in and use them this summer to dry herbs and gourds. Save pantyhose to enclose individual veggies like melons, corn, cabbage, cucumbers and small pumpkins to protect from birds and insects. Tie the pantyhose off at both ends of the veggie to keep insects out. The pantyhose will stretch with growth and dry off quickly after rain.
"Save orange juice and tuna fish cans to use as barriers around newly transplanted plants to protect them from the cutworm," he said. "Cutworms will chew through the stems at soil level. Cut both ends from the cans and push cans about an inch into the soil around the plants.
"After two to three weeks, the cans can be removed because the stems will have thickened enough to withstand any cutworm damage."
Wolford suggested making homemade seed tapes for small seeds like carrots, lettuce and beets by following these directions:
Cut plain paper or copy paper into long one-inch wide strips
Mix flour and water to the consistency of gravy to make glue.
Using a small watercolor paintbrush, pick up a small dot of glue, and then touch the brush to a seed and place seed with glue on the paper.
Space the seeds on the paper according to the directions on the seed packet.
Air dry the tapes, roll them up and store in a plastic sandwich bag.
"Avoid damping off disease when starting seeds," he added. "This fungus disease kills plants at the soil line, causing them to collapse."
To head the disease off, use a sterile soil medium. Sterilize pots and containers in a 10 percent bleach solution. Sink the containers in the solution for a few minutes and rinse with water. Keep the temperature around 65-70 degrees F for best germination and provide bottom heat if possible. Most of all, avoid overwatering. Allow the soil to dry before watering and always drain saucers under containers after watering.
"Don't rush the growing season," he cautioned. "The frostfree date for Chicago is around April 25 near the lake and May 15 away from the lake. The term frostfree means that there is still a 50-50 chance of frost on the frostfree date.
"Be prepared for late spring frosts. Cover tender plants with row covers, cardboard, blankets, hot caps, or newspaper. Do not use metal or plastic for protection; they can conduct cold to plants. We have had frost as late as Memorial Day."
In the spring, never work your soil when it is wet. Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods. Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze. If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be tilled. If it doesn't crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple of more days and test again before digging.
Buy healthy vegetable transplants, Wolford said.
"Leaves and stems should be green and healthy without any signs of yellowing or browning," he noted. "Yellowing or browning leaves may indicate an insect or disease problem.
"Gently remove transplants from their tray and check the root system. Roots should be white with visible soil. Transplants with brown dead roots should not be purchased. Check for insects such as whiteflies or aphids. Be sure to gradually introduce your transplants to the outdoor environment over a period of days, especially plants grown and purchased in a greenhouse. When you do plant, water your transplants in with a starter fertilizer that is high in phosphorus that helps to promote root development."
Harden off cool-season vegetable transplants before exposing them to cool temperatures, wind and sun. Gradually introduce them to the outdoor environment over a seven- to ten-day period.
Wolford recommended using a water-soluble starter fertilizer to water in vegetable transplants. A starter fertilizer is high in phosphorus, which helps to promote good root development, getting the plant off to a good start. The most common water-soluble starter fertilizers like 5-10-5, 10-52-17 or 8-32-16 should be used at the rate of one to two tablespoons per gallon of water. Use one to two cups of the fertilizer to water around the roots of the plant.
"When your lettuce begins to bolt, consider leaving the plants in the garden," he said. "The bolted leaf lettuces with their flowering stalks make a striking display. Red-leaf lettuces are particularly spectacular. Pull the lettuce in late summer for a second planting for the fall."
Cut back the foliage of ornamental grasses to about four to six inches. Not removing the foliage will delay the warming of the crown of the plant and will slow new growth. Ornamental grasses can be divided in the spring, especially if the center of the plant has died out or if it has overgrown its space.
"Divide perennials in the spring," he said. "Divide plants when flowers get smaller, when the center of the plant dies out or when the plant outgrows its space. Dig around the plant and lift the clump out of the ground.
"Break the clump into sections. Larger sections will re-establish quicker than smaller sections. Keep the clumps moist until ready to plant."
Do not plant Zoysia grass, even though you will see glossy ads touting its benefits, said Wolford. Zoysia grass is a warm-season grass more suitable for lawns in St. Louis. It is dormant and brown in the spring and fall. It also forms thatch and has to be de-thatched every year. Zoysia grass is planted using plugs that may take three to four years to establish.
"Don't apply a nitrogen fertilizer to your lawn too early in the spring," Wolford said. "Research has shown that in the early spring grass roots thrive, forming a network of deep roots. Deep roots will help your lawn survive hot, dry summer weather.
"Applying fertilizer too early will promote grass shoot growth at the expense of root development. If you usually apply a pre-emergent crabgrass killer combo with fertilizer in April, try to find a crabgrass killer without fertilizer to apply, and wait until mid-May to put down a nitrogen fertilizer to the lawn."
Spring is the time to kill creeping charlie. Creeping charlie has kidney-bean-shaped leaves and blue flowers. It is most susceptible to weed killers when it is in flower in the spring. It tends to establish itself in parts of the lawn that are too shady for grass. Control with hand removal or hoeing before it sets seed.
Prepare lawn for the mowing season. Rake away all twigs and debris. Have the lawn mower blades sharpened, replace the spark plugs and change the oil. Apply the first application of fertilizer in early May. Have your lawn core aerified. This process will pull up small cores of soil to the surface. Core aerification helps to reduce thatch problems, soil compaction and poor drainage. Machines can be rented. Make two trips across the lawn, the second trip perpendicular to the first. An average of 15 to 20 aeration holes per square foot is recommended.
"Seed bare spots in the lawn," he said. "Dig up the soil and add a starter fertilizer. Sprinkle on a good seed mix of bluegrass and fescue. Rake lightly to mix seed with soil. Tamp to assure seed-soil contact. Keep well watered for two to three weeks until the seed has germinated."
Spring is prime feeding time for rabbits. There are several methods of control that you can use.
"Almost any type of garden center sells rabbit repellents and sprays," he said. "These may work for a short period of time, but will have to be applied often, especially after rains. Remember that new growth since the initial spraying is not protected."
The most effective protection against rabbits is a chicken-wire fence. It may not look good, but it works. Wolford recommended the following:
Purchase a three-foot high roll of chicken wire
As you set up the fence, bend the bottom six inches outward at a 90 degree angle.
Bury this under two inches of soil.
You want to make sure that you follow these steps because this will keep the rabbit from burrowing under the fence. The remaining 2-1/2 foot fence is high enough that even the strongest rabbits can't hop over. Since rabbits won't usually eat squash, tomatoes, or potatoes, they can be planted outside the boundaries of the fence, but if rabbits are really hungry they will almost eat anything.
Extend the life of your Easter lily by placing it in indirect light. Bright sunlight may burn the flowers and shorten the bloom time. Keep at temperatures of 65-70 degrees F. Remove the lily flowers as soon as they die. Plant outside in a sunny spot as soon as danger of frost is past. Water thoroughly. Fertilize with a 5-10-5 fertilizer. The old top will die back and new shoots will emerge. The plant will flower in July or August.
"Groundcovers can be mowed to remove winter-burned foliage," Wolford said. "Raise the mower to its highest setting, fertilize and water after mowing to ensure rapid re-growth."