Insects and Pests


Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinal)

Crabgrass is the bane of many people seeking a ‘nice’ lawn. It is a weedy grass which will out-compete desirable grass species and take over in a short time. Crabgrass has a wider blade, is lighter in color and grows faster than the lawn making it obviously stand out as a weed. Its seed germinates earlier and at lower ground temperatures than other desirable turfgrasses giving it a jump in growing time.

The best defense against all weeds of lawns is to maintain a healthy stand of turfgrass by having soil pH and nutrients at the correct levels. Healthy soil supports healthy grass. Lawns mowed at a height of three inches or taller has less crabgrass and other weeds as the soil it shaded, excluding light from reaching the seeds which initiates germination. Crabgrass is an annual growing new plants from seed each year. None of last year’s crabgrass lived through the winter.

Low cut grass invaded by crabgrass.

 

 

Chemical control against crabgrass is applying a pre-emergent herbicide. They attack the newly produced tissue from the germinating seed up to young plants with a couple of leaves. Pre-emergent herbicides have no effect on seeds in the soil that do not break dormancy and start to grow, only the seeds which start to grow. Timing of application is before the crabgrass seeds start to germinate when to the soil temperatures are 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same time the forsythia is just past its full bloom stage and starting to but out some green leaves.  The germination period ends when the lilacs begin to bloom. Just remember to apply after forsythia and before lilac flowers. Forsythia and lilac make a great plant indicator for applying the pre-emergent herbicide against crabgrass.

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Forsythia bush.

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Lilac, photo (psu.edu/lilac)

There are several different pre-emergent herbicide active ingredients with varying rates of how long they last in the soil. Products containing pendimethalin will last about four months out in the environment. Other active ingredients, dithiopyr, benefin+trifluralin, prodiamine, will last a shorter period of time. Read the labels for the residual rate for each formulation’s time it will last. Most pre-emergent herbicides will stop all seeds from continuing to grow after germinating. This means you will not be able to plant desirable grass seed after applying it. Products containing Siduron are the only pre-emergent herbicide that will allow cool season grass seeds to grow while eliminating crabgrass.

-Carol Quish

 

Spittlebugs are common and easily recognized by the white foamy ‘spittle’ produced by the nymph or immature stage of the insects as they feed. Adults are less often seen but are commonly known as froghoppers (close relatives of leafhoppers, etc).  Depending on the reference, there are anywhere from 30 to 60+ spittlebug species in the United States.  All feed on plants, including both woody and herbaceous types.  Some spittlebugs have broad host ranges and others narrow.

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‘Spittle’ produced by nymphs on a plant. Photo by: G. Lenard, LA State Univ.

 

There is usually only one generation per year and most overwinter in the egg stage inside overwintering plant tissue where they were deposited by the females in from mid to late summer to early fall, depending on species. Hatch occurs in the spring, probably in May in Connecticut.  Even though spittlebugs feed by extracting plant sap/juice through needle-like mouth parts, they seldom cause notable injury to the plant.  There are a few exceptions including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) and the pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribata).

Color variations of the meadow spittlebug adult.  Photos: Cheryl Moorehead,     bugwood.org

The meadow spittlebug has a broad host range that includes both herbaceous and woody plants. It is reported to cause damage in clover, strawberry, mint, herbaceous ornamentals and both coniferous and broad-leaved woody plants when present in high numbers.  Other common names include the common froghopper and the cuckoo spit (most common name in the UK).  Eggs are laid in the stems or crevices of host plants in the fall.  When they hatch in the spring, nymphs usually feed on the plant the eggs were laid on but they will move to younger more tender tissues as the plant grows.  There are five nymph stages and all produce spittle as they feed.   Once the adult stage is reached, spittle is no longer produced and the adult is quite mobile, quickly jumping a long distance relative to its size when disturbed.

The froghoppers or adult stage are so-called because their bodies are somewhat wider at the rear like a frog. The name cuckoo spit may have come about because the spittle tends to be first seen in the spring around the same time that the first calls of the cuckoo bird are heard.  Most adults are brown to green in color with only subtle markings but some species have striking coloration or patterns.  The meadow spittlebug adult is quite variable in coloration.

So, about the spittle. The spittle offers some clear benefits to the nymph(s) hiding within.  First, it helps prevent the soft-bodied little guys from drying out.  In addition, it protects them from detection by potential parasites and predators.  A single mass of spittle may be inhabited by multiple nymphs feeding in the same area on the plant.  How is the spittle produced?  First, the spittlebug ingests more plant sap than it needs for its nutrition/sustenance.  The excess is expelled through the anus as a watery waste product.  It mixes with a mucilaginous fluid produced by glands on the abdomen and air bubbles are introduced from a special canal by abdominal contractions.  This is pretty interesting stuff going on in gardens, forests and meadows all around us each spring and early summer!

spittlebugnymph-bugwood Spittlebug nymph.  Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

If you would like to get a closer look at a nymph, don’t be afraid to brush the foam carefully away from a plant and look for them inside. They will be up to ¼” long depending on their stage of development and may be yellowish, greenish or brown in color.  They are elongated and generally are positioned head down. This facilitates the movement of the spittle downward to cover them.  Nymphs are shy and will not be happy to be exposed.  They will attempt to walk away but cannot run or fly.

The biggest problem with spittlebugs in the garden, whether it’s an ornamental or food garden, is the unsightliness of the spittle masses. Spittle and nymphs can both be washed off the plants with a steady stream of water.  On a small scale, they can be hand-removed and disposed of.  Normally, no chemical controls are recommended and the spittle protects nymphs from contact insecticides.  Not sure if there are enough spittlebugs to cause plants to be weakened?  Look for distorted or stunted new growth, and of course numerous spittle masses on the same plant.

In a few cases, additional injury to the host plant can occur if toxic substances are introduced into the plant while feeding or if the froghopper/spittlebug is vectoring a plant pathogen (could be a virus or phytoplasma).  Feeding wounds can create entry points for some pathogens.

By J. Allen

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Cedar waxwings in a Hawthorn tree, an important food source for birds in the winter

I love the outdoors and have spent a lot of time off the beaten track exploring since I was a young adult growing up in the Chenango River valley in New York. The way to get acquainted with nature is to get out in it. And I have done so all my life. This year was a good one for me personally as far as observing nature in all its glory. Even though the weather was colder in the spring and hotter and drier in the summer, and perhaps was the hottest year on record, there was a lot going on, both on a typical and uncommon level.

The first surprise was a pleasant one- a larger than average number of foxes spotted in all kinds of places. Innumerable times I saw foxes in the wee hours of morning returning with prey for their young. Whether in rural or residential areas, these animals were having a great year. The ones I saw had healthy skin and fur, and certainly had no trouble finding food. On the golf course where I work, there was a pair of foxes that had a den of kits just inside the woods by a tee. Every day like clockwork, they had a specific route they traveled going from the den to hunt, and they had a specific, different, route returning to the den with their quarry. The good news was they killed a lot of troublesome landscape troublers- mice, voles and even several woodchucks.  Later on, the parents would be accompanied by the kits as they learned to hunt.

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Cooper’s hawk patrolling near a bird feeder

Although a dry year, the two or three thunderstorms we had brought out a few creatures the next day. One of my favorites is the eft form of the red- spotted newt. These tiny, bright orange amphibians sometimes  venture out of the woods after a rainy night and sometimes can’t seem to find their way back. Several fairways tend to have these guys on them in the mornings, so I am on the alert for them as I mow. Box turtles are also known to put in a similar appearance on days after summer rains. This year I was able to help a granddaddy of a box turtle get across a very busy road safely. This particular turtle  was one of the most ornately marked ones I have ever seen.

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Eft form of the red- spotted newt happily returns to the woods

Another creature that had an exceptional year was the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. The previous year, they were few and far between, but in 2016 they had a banner year. The host plants of the caterpillars are spicebush and sassafras and careful examination inside leaves  folded lengthwise reveal the larvae of this butterfly. It seemed like whenever you came across  a host plant, at least one of these caterpillars was somewhere on it. On one small spicebush in a butterfly garden there were six caterpillars from eggs laid by six different females.

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Two spicebush swallowtail caterpillars found on the same sassafras sapling

Fall leaf color wasn’t great at first- perhaps because of the drought- and some red maples that turned early were actually yellow or brown in color. But there was a snap of cold in early October and a day later the leaves were at peak color, a sudden surprise after a drab start. Oaks were also beautiful this year- not dominated by the browns of last year. Red and white oaks had striking reds, and some red oaks produced yellow or tan. Acorns were not particularly abundant, but enough were around to keep deer, turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks in good supply. This was actually good for the squirrels and chipmunks because in late September and early October they were not able to find many maple seeds to eat because of the sudden freeze in April that caused many maple flowers to drop early.

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Willow leafing out in the snow on April 3, 2016

While insect populations, especially caterpillars, seemed low this year, bumblebees and other native bees abounded. Late season bloomers like mums, asters and goldenrods provided many insects with a good source of pollen and nectar. I found a small goldenrod in full bloom after Thanksgiving, which was very unusual. Bumblebees, some small native bees and honeybees were active up until Thanksgiving week, at least here on the UConn campus and in my backyard garden because alyssum, some hydrangeas and a few obedient plants were still in flower. And the caterpillars of the imported cabbage worm butterfly abounded late this season- even into December- especially on certain ornamental cabbages. A good find this year was a scarlet malachite beetle- on a blade of grass near my front step. This was only the second one I have ever seen, so it was a noteworthy event. The excitement never ends…

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scarlet malachite beetle

This year there was a pair of barred owls that had a nest inside a standing dead tree trunk on the side of a country road I travel on every day. In the pre-dawn when I passed by on my way to work, the parent owls would often be bringing the last protein nuggets of the night’s hunts back to their young. In the afternoon, both parents would be guarding the nest from perches nearby. In the pre-dusk twilight, the young owls would appear at the entrance of the nest hole and let it be known that they were hungry. And so the hunts would begin, to continue until the following dawn. I missed them all when they fledged and went off into the wild blue to learn to be on their own.

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Barred owl guarding her nest during the day

Wild blueberries were especially abundant this year, as were huckleberries. Noticeably fewer were dewberries, which are produced by plants that creep along the ground. Late in the season, migrating birds had few cedar berries to eat (unlike the bumper crop of last year), but at least black gum, poison ivy and Virginia creeper were loaded with fruit. Migrating warblers such as the yellow- rumped warblers are especially fond of these fruits. And if you have a bird feeder and some woods nearby, keep on the lookout for small raptors like the Cooper’s or the sharp-shinned hawks which prey on other birds. If birds around the feeder scatter suddenly, there may be a good reason, apart from a cat. During the winter, check out any hawthorn or crabapple trees that still have fruit. Robins and cedar waxwings are common winter visitors to these trees.

And as a final note, enjoy what is left of the year. And have a Merry Christmas! Or whatever you may celebrate at this time of year…

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Highland Park Springs Manchester, Ct.

 

 

 

 

Oak wilt is an important disease to be on the lookout for in New England. This is especially true for Connecticut because it has been confirmed in three locations in our neighbor to the west and south, New York.  The disease is important because it kills trees in the most susceptible red oak group (northern red, black and pin oaks in our area) within weeks or months of infection.  White oaks are more moderately susceptible and are generally not killed for a few to several years.  Early detection of this disease in any new location is critical to attempting to eradicate the problem before it becomes widespread.  The causal fungus is Ceratocystis fagacearum.

Oak wilt was first confirmed in the U.S. in Wisconsin in 1944. Since that time it has become widespread in the upper Midwest and Texas.  In the northeast, it has been confirmed in NY and western PA.  Just this year, 2016, two new locations were confirmed in NY by the Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic:  Central Islip on Long Island and Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region.  The origin of this pathogen is not known.

So what does oak wilt look like? In the most susceptible red oaks, symptoms include wilt, browning of the tips and edges of the leaves beginning in the upper part of the tree, twig and branch dieback, and browning of the outer sapwood.  The fungus kills the tree by growing in the xylem vessels where water and nutrients are translocated from the roots to the crown. The fungal invasion results in the production of gummy blockages that prevent translocation.

oakwilt-leaf-michstate Photo credit: Michigan State University

The disease is spread from one tree to another in two ways, via root grafts and sap beetles. A root graft is a ‘fusing’ of roots of neighboring trees that allows for movement between them of water, nutrients, and, unfortunately, the fungus.  So trees growing in close proximity in forests, landscapes or along streets can share this disease readily.  Sap beetles are attracted to fungal mats that form under the bark of dead and dying trees. Bark cracks form as the fungal mats enlarge. Spores of the fungus and an odor attractive to the beetles are both produced on the mats.  Beetles come to feed there and sticky spores adhere to their bodies.  The beetles are strongly attracted to fresh wounds on trees (ie pruning or other wounds) and when they move to those sites after picking up spores, the disease is spread to a new tree.  The spore can only invade a tree via a wound.  Long distance spread can occur when infected logs are moved to new areas.

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Oak wilt fungal mat under bark. Michigan State photo.

 

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Sap beetles are often black with orange markings.  University of Wisconsin photo.

 

If you’re not sure how to tell red oaks from white oaks, here’s the most visible difference: Oaks in the red oak group have leaves with pointed lobe tips and those in the white oak group have rounded tips as shown below.

 

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Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension

 

Browning and wilt can also be caused by drought stress.  If it’s oak wilt, remember that the browning will begin in the top of the canopy.  Red oaks will die within months; not usually the case with drought stress or even other pest and disease problems.

What should be done if you suspect oak wilt on trees in CT? Contact your state’s diagnostic lab as soon as possible for information on sample collection and submission.  You may send images via email for a quick look and to see if other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out.  The UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab can be reached at 860-486-6740 or by sending an email to joan.allen@uconn.edu.  The diagnostic lab website is www.plant.lab.uconn.edu. Your vigilance will help protect oak trees in CT and throughout New England!

J. Allen

 

 

It’s that time of year again when the Asian Lady Beetles are seeking a place to spend the winter. They are congregating on the sun-warmed sides of buildings and homes looking for a protected site or tiny opening to crawl inside to a warm and dry place, out of the coming cold. They overwinter as adults in a dormant state, not eating, drinking, mating or laying eggs. They are not doing any damage to the house, just using it like a bear uses a cave for the winter.  Once they are inside, some are fooled by the artificial environment we create by lighting our home during the night hours and heating when it is cold outside, to come out of their winter rest early, becoming a nuisance inside.

Their spots and coloring will vary, but they will also have the same ‘M’ mark in black on their head.

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A gathering of Asian Lady Beetles.

They are annoying to share living space with them. Keep them out of your house by keeping screens in screen doors in good repair. Caulk or seal up any cracks or crevices allowing access for them to crawl inside. Screen attic vents and fan covers to exclude lady beetles from attics and air inlets. Pesticides are not warranted for them as they are considered beneficial. Vacuum up any that do make their way into the home.

Other insects that have the same habit of trying to get enter buildings to overwinter in their adult stage are stinkbugs, boxelder bugs and leaf-footed bugs. Control measures are the same as for the lady beetles.

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Boxelder bug

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

 

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Leaf-footed Bug

-Carol Quish

There was a row of spruce trees along the back yard that were about 4’ tall when we moved into our home in 1986. By 2016 they had grown to over 20’ and formed a great screen between our yard and a neighbor’s yard. This past fall and winter one of the trees just quickly declined and died. It is in fact the first tree on the right in the second photo which looked pretty healthy in 2015. The remaining trees appear to be fine. We decided to take it down and I had hoped that there might be a clue as to the cause of its demise.

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Winter 1986

 

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Winter 2015

 

Although the other trees in the row looked fine this particular tree had no needles left on any of the branches. The first step that my husband took was to remove as many limbs as he could safely reach. What remained looked like a very sad cell tower although the birds didn’t seem to mind and still liked to perch there. The image below that shows the felled tree shows the top of the tree and the state that the branches were in. The next step was to use a chain saw to fell the tree. I must state that my husband is not a professional in this area but we did look at some reliable videos on YouTube so that we could follow the proper safety precautions and cutting procedure. We knew that there was a good, safe area for the tree to fall that was not near the house or deck.

The first step was to mark the cutting lines on the tree. Then, suited up with safety goggles, heavy gloves, steel-toed boots and our son’s old lacrosse helmet the cutting began. The first two cuts created the wedge that is removed on the side of the tree that it will fall toward. Next was the horizontal cut on the opposite side that does NOT go all of the through to the wedge. From this point the tree should fall into the first wedge and drop.

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This tree did not want to go down quickly and it took several additional very minor incremental cuts until it began to fall forward at an unbelievably undramatic rate. The trunk didn’t even hit the ground, the remaining branches on the top kept it perpendicular to the plane of the earth.

So wouldn’t the next step be to cut the trunk it manageable pieces? Well, it would unless your son is looking for a 125 lb. log to use to practice a caber toss for next year’s Scottish games! It sits behind our shed waiting for him.

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I had asked my husband to leave about a 2 ½’ stump hoping that I could do something decorative or whimsical with it. A great garden shop that I visit in Manchester had just the bowl portion of a birdbath, the base having been ruined at some point. I brought it home and my husband drilled a hole in the center of the stump so that the base would nest securely in it. I also applied polyurethane to the bark of the stump so that it was the same shade and finish of the bowl. They look great together.

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I didn’t really see any distinct indications as to the demise of the tree. There were few bored holes near the top which could have been the result of woodpecker or sapsucker feeding. If they were from a borer I didn’t see any tunnels or galleries that went on extensively. In fact, the heartwood, sapwood, and cambium layers all looked surprisingly healthy. The problem could have been root-related but as we didn’t dig out the stump that will remain a mystery.

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Did you know that the Europeans that arrived in North America in the 1600s that Connecticut was more than 90% covered by forested land? Even though the Native Americans burned the forests in the spring and fall to eliminate underbrush and provide a better habitat for the game that they hunted their habits did not have a very big impact on the landscape. The influx of colonists however, with their need for lumber for housing, furniture, and barns, not to mention wood for fuel and cleared land for farming caused forested acreage to decrease steadily until it reached an all-time low in 1820 when only 25% of the state of Connecticut was considered forested. This also affected the animal populations that depended on the wooded areas for their habitats but also led to an increase in soil erosion.

When the Erie Canal opened in October of 1825 it unintentionally caused this trend to be reversed. As it became easier to transport produce from large mid-West farms the smaller farms of New England began to disappear. Percentages of forested land increased to the point that by the 1950s 70% of the state was once again forested.In fact, a recent photo opportunity showed a freight train that was hauling lumber from California and Canada, not Connecticut.

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Connecticut is one of the most densely populated states and even with the effects of urban sprawl we are still considered one of the most heavily forested states with the current percentage close to 60% according to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The DEEP works with private landowners, state and town municipalities, and local forest industries to protect Connecticut’s forest resources. Among the information that they share is their work with two current invasive species that are causing harm to our hardwood trees: the Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Emerald Ash Borer. The insect images are from the DEEP website.

Connecticut, along with the rest of the New England states, is known for its spectacular displays of fall foliage. This year’s water shortage may affect this year’s show but not as much as a reduction in our forested areas would. Nowhere in Connecticut are you too far from a forested area and the beauty that they provide year-round.

Susan Pelton

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Japanese Knotweed is a beautiful plant when in full, white flower stage. Too bad it is such a thug and invasive. It also makes a nice hedge, but quickly overtakes the properties if used as a boundary plant. Colonies can be seen just about everywhere along roadsides, in meadows and yards as it spreads so freely.

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Japanese knotweed is also known as Japanese bamboo, American and Mexican Bamboo due to its hollow stems with nodes on them. The plant is known by three different Latin names of Fallopia japonica and Polygonum cuspidatum Siebold & Zucc.  And Reynoutria japonica Houtt, but it all the same plant. No matter what you call it, it is aggressive, invasive and extremely hard to kill once established.

The plant was brought to the United States during the 1890’s from Asia as a solution to erosion. It will grow in just about any situation from full sun to complete shade, rich or lean soils, and dry or soggy soils. It tends to make a colony of plants, out-competing any and all other plants resulting in a monoculture. Since it evolved on another continent, it has no native predators, insect or animal that eats it enough to control its spread.

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It reproduces vegetatively. If digging it out, any tiny piece of root left in the ground will quickly send up a shoot to get reestablished.  Control measures are difficult. Heavy machinery can dig out large infestations and monitor for a new sprouts to pull or treat with herbicides. Herbicides which contain Glyphosate or Triclopyr are the most successful and should be used before the plants flower or sprayed on cut stems. It has been reported that monthly mowing for five years will finally eradicate a large area.

 

-Carol Quish

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