Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
October 26, 2009
The last week has found the lowly millipede taking homes by storm. If millipedes were insects, they would deserve insect of the week honors. Since they are not insects, we'll just dub them "pest of the week."
What are millipedes? They belong to the arthropod class Diplododa, which means double footed. The reason is simple: they have two legs per body segment. There are many different types of millipedes, over 1000 actually. They prefer to live in moist places, such as under mulch, in flower beds, in good quality lawns, and under wood. They feed on decaying organic matter, and occasionally on tender leaves or roots.
Millipedes lay eggs in the soil in spring and summer months, and usually overwinter as the adults that we are seeing now. The big problem with millipedes is that they migrate. Right now they may be migrating through your living room. Nobody knows for sure why they migrate, but the best guesses involve searching for food sources and seeking moisture.
Unlike centipedes, millipedes don't bite or sting. They do give off a bad odor when disturbed or smashed. Be careful crushing them on carpeting, as they can cause a stain. If you're not sure whether you have millipedes or centipedes, here are some differences: centipedes have on leg per body segment while millipedes have two, centipedes normally have much longer legs than millipedes, and centipedes move rapidly while millipedes move slowly.
Now that we know a little about millipedes, How do we get rid of them? Well, there isn't a simple answer (or I'd be rich), but an integrated program gives the best results. A program that uses both chemical and non-chemical methods is usually most effective.
Non-chemical controls aim at removing the moist resting places. Dethatch your lawn to reduce that damp thatch layer just above the soil surface, closely mow and edge the lawn to allow it to dry quickly, remove debris that provides hiding places, pull mulch away from the house, water grass in the early morning, and keep leaves from piling up along the foundation. That's one of the reasons we tend to have so many millipedes this time of year. The crumbling leaf material is an ideal cover and food source for millipedes. Use of glue boards for mice will also catch an amazing number of millipedes.
If millipedes get inside the house, the vacuum cleaner is probably the best control. It is non-chemical and prevents stains from smashed millipedes. Other controls in the home include the sticky boards, aerosol sprays that are used for flying insects (check the active ingredient as some contain permethrin which will last several weeks), and baseboard spays used for ants.
Outside the house, start with a foundation spray of something such as propoxur, bifenthrin, permethrin, or Sevin. Spray the foundation and the adjacent foot or so of soil and plants or lawn. Make sure you treat doorways and other openings as well. Since millipedes aren't insects to begin with, don't expect a complete wipe-out with a chemical spray program.
October 20, 2009
With the warmer weather, Asian ladybugs (technically the multi-colored Asian ladybeetle) are becoming more active. How did we come to have so many? Well.... the populations really climbed in early September as the populations of soybean aphids increased in soybean fields. The problem was the soybeans matured, and the aphids died. So now we have all these insects with no food source in the fields. They are traveling looking for food and a place to rest to gather warmth. We are also destroying their resting places by cleaning off flower beds and raking up piles of leaves. In Asia, the ladybugs climb the side of a cliff to gather sun. Since we don't have many cliffs around here, they use the side of your house, the car, a tree trunk in the sun, well you get it - about anything vertical and in the sun. These insects were actually imported to help control insects in pecan orchards. Once they succeeded there, they moved to other orchards, such as peaches, where they did more harm than good. Many people say the trend of more harm than good continues today, but they are mainly a nuisance pest.
The best control in the home is a vacuum cleaner. If you have numbers too large for that type of control, area sprays of an aerosol flying insect killer will knock down the ones it hits. If you are terribly bothered, try a perimeter spray of the foundation, door areas, siding, and window areas on the home with a pesticide that will last for a while. Color test the material on siding first, and hope for the best. The pesticides are effective, but they are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of ladybugs that you are trying to control. Permethrin and bifenthrin are probably the most commonly used pesticides for perimeter sprays, but don't expect a quick knock-out.
October 15, 2009
To start with, remove all the dead, short, and weak canes. The large remaining canes are thinned to 4 to 8 inches apart. The canes are cut back to 5-6 feet tall or if no support is provided 3 to 4 feet tall. The canes that produced last year should be removed anytime after harvest, or removed in the late fall. Canes are productive only one year and the new growth will produce the next year's harvest. The exception is the Heritage, or ever-bearing, raspberry which produce two crops of berries. One is in the fall, and the second is late spring or early summer. These berries should have the canes removed after the late spring or early summer crop.
October 15, 2009
Peonies are one of those "plant it and forget it" flowers. Many haven't been bothered for over 50 years, and still going strong. As with most plants, crowding can occur, and the time to dig and divide is late September through October. Peonies do best in soils with a slightly acid to neutral pH. The best time to add lime, if needed, is when you dig the plants.
When dividing, make sure you leave buds on each piece you plan to plant. These buds should be no deeper than an inch when replanted to allow for proper flowering. Mulching will help year-long on any plant, and peonies are no exception.
October 9, 2009
With impending frost, it is important to take care of a few items. For protection, you could always try the covers over the plants you want to protect. You will need to use something with a little bit of insulation value such as cardboard, blankets, or row covers. The row covers themselves don't have much of an r-value, but the air space between the cover and plant does. Just laying a cheap tarp on your plants will usually result in at least some damage to the top parts of the plant. And if there are windy conditions, it may be about impossible to keep much of anything covered.
If you are ready to have the season conclude, harvest what you can. The main things to harvest prior to a frost or freeze include squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, etc. Virtually everything in the garden will be affected except for frost tolerant crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and the like. The main problem with any of the vining crops is the possibility of the vines rotting back to the vegetable. This in turn means they won't keep well. Unfortunately, vining crops harvested early won't continue to ripen. Green pumpkins tend to stay green.
For tomatoes, you may pick green tomatoes and they will ripen after a period of time. The best way is to pick firm, good quality fruit, and wash well with soapy water. After they are dry, wrap in newspaper or tissue paper and place on a rack or in a cardboard box in a single layer. Check periodically for tomatoes going out of condition, or becoming ripe. To speed things along, you can try putting a tomato in a paper lunch bag with a banana peel. Bananas are high in ethylene, which is the same thing used in a gas form to ripen tomatoes in transport during the winter. Of course, the flavor just isn't the same as a vine-ripened tomato, but tomatoes in the fall or winter are good regardless.
As for flowers, the same principals of protection apply to annuals. Of course if you have hanging baskets or potted plants, you can simply put them in a garage or shed until the danger of frost has passed. The key point is one or two nights of frost, followed by a week or two of good weather, probably justifies some protective measures. A frost every night for two weeks, or a long period of freezing temperatures, probably mean major efforts will produce very little gain.
October 7, 2009
Unlike lions, tigers, and bears, the grubs, skunks, and moles are not make-believe, and they can really cause some damage to your lawn. Let's start with the grubs, since most of the problems are associated with them. We are faced with a few different types of grubs, with the Japanese beetle larvae and the June bug larvae being the most common. These also are the grub types most damaging to your lawn.
Starting with the adult beetles, the life cycle goes something like this. The beetles mate, and lay eggs in a lush, grassy area. The eggs then hatch into a small grub. This grub will overwinter as a grub, diving deeper in the ground as temperatures cool. The grub will some back to the surface in the spring as temperatures warm. After a few weeks to a month, the grub will go into the pupa stage. Then the adult emerges from the pupa in May or June to start the cycle all over again.
It normally takes in the range of 10-12 grubs per square foot to cause damage to decent turf, and with the good growing conditions we have had this year that number can almost double. This means we probably won't see much actual grub damage unless we have a sudden drought. The other thing is the grubs will begin to go deeper in the soil as temperatures cool. Most of the damage is coming from four-legged critters seeking the grubs as a food source.
Moles traditionally eat grubs and earthworms. They have a long, straight, shallow tunnel they use for their main "run," and then have several short, curving tunnels off of this where they have sought food. Skunks will actually dig individual holes to get grubs. They have a wonderful sense of smell, and they tend to work in a specific area. The holes caused by skunks are usually about the size of a penny, and they go as deep as the grub was (usually less than an inch and a half).
As for your control options, that gets more difficult this time of year. A month ago, the best approach would have been to apply a grub control treatment. We are approaching the time when the grubs will go deeper into the ground, so the benefits of a grub control treatment will be minimal. Grub controls are best applied in August or September to control the small grubs. If the problem is grubs, you are probably out of luck for this year. If the problem is the animals eating the grubs, you are going to be reduced to individual elimination.
Mole control is best accomplished by trap or poison baits. There are three main types of traps including the jaw type, the plunger type, and the loop type. The plunger type is probably least effective, since it is hardest to get set to the proper depth. The folk remedy controls usually involve bubble gum or juicy fruit gum in the runs, but these don't work consistently enough to recommend them. You're better off chewing the gum yourself while you are setting the traps. There are also poison baits available that are effective. The soft baits, which are meant to imitate grubs or worms, are effective. Poison peanuts or milo are not, since moles don't eat seeds.
Skunk control is another ballgame. There are state trapping regulations covering skunks, so you are best to check those out yourself. There is no season on shooting them, if that is an option where you live. The best control in this case is really your defense, and that means reducing the grub population where you don't want the digging occurring. Of course, there may just be a 10 foot move to another area where grubs are available.