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Monday, April 23, 2018

My Husband Cut Down a Climbing Cactus!

Q. Look what my husband did? He cut my saguaro below the seams before consulting with me.  I know it looked kind of sick (the tree, not my husband), but he cut it. I am going to cut those chunks all the way down. 
Cuts on climbing cactus like these may look bad but they are repairable

A. From your pictures, I don’t think your cactus is a saguaro. I think it is one of the columnar cacti, also called a climbing cactus. Well, it is a setback for the plant because the cuts make it look ugly. The plant doesn’t care, but it is not pleasing to look at.

New growth from just below the cut

            If I’m right, and this is a climbing cactus, those cuts create new growth coming from the ribs just below the cut. The cuts will force new side growth, columns, that continue growing upward.

Propagating columnar cactus

            Another option is to remove all the damaged stems to a couple inches of the ground. Let them “sucker” and regrow below the cut. Remove damaged “arms” entirely if it looks bad. Cut these removed columns or “arms” into 12 inches long segments for planting. Put them in the shade for one to two weeks to heal the cuts before planting.
            After two weeks, plant them in soil amended with compost (not upside down!) with about one third of the 12 inches stuck in the ground. Stake to hold them upright until they grow roots and they don’t fall over. Water every 2 to 3 weeks so that the soil is dry between irrigations.
            Let the columns which weren’t cut continue to grow but “lean” against something upright. These cacti will get tall if they don’t freeze back during a very cold winter.
Many of the columnar cacti are also called climbing cacti. They get so tall they can fall over if they don't lean on something. Many of these cacti do not handle intense sunlight very well in the desert. In response to sunburn to the columns, these cacti will grow new site shoots and propagate themselves.
            In your picture, some columns appeared to be damaged by intense sunlight. This damage was forcing a lot of new side growth from the columns. This cactus will grow much better with amended soil and put in a location where it gets some shade from the late afternoon sun. Now might be a good time to move it to a new location and let it “lean”.

How to Control Scale Insects on Texas Mountain Laurel

Q. I planted a Sephora secundiflora in my backyard about 17 years ago. Today, I noticed many of the stems are infested with an insect that looks like a type of scale to me. The stems and leaves below the infested stems look wet and sticky.  The pavers underneath the plant are also wet and sticky. 
Those small red bumps on the branches of Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora, are insects

A. Your picture helped tremendously. 

Those red bumps are scale insects

Yes, you are correct. These brown, round bumps on the stems are scale insects. I have never seen these on Sophora, Texas Mount Laurel, before and I could find no reports of scale insects on this tree from anywhere. Scale insects provide a food for ant colonies, as do aphids. It’s mostly sugar from plant sap. That’s the sticky wetness you are seeing. Ants have a vested interest in protecting and colonizing ant and scale populations because of this sugary, sticky wetness.
Horticultural oils are pesticides made, typically, from a refined mineral oil.
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            The most effective control of scale insects are repeat stem sprays of horticultural oils. These sprays should be applied several times during the cooler times of the growing season. Combine this spray with ant control in the same area.
Aphids and ants on apricot in Tajikistan
            Ants move scale insects around, much like they do aphids, to different plant parts and even different plants. They contribute to the spread of scale insects in trees and shrubs and can turn a minor problem into a major problem in a couple of months.
Some Amdro products are ant baits and can be used to kill an ant colony that is spreading and protecting insects producing sugary exudates like scale, aphids and others.

Controlling ants

            When controlling ants, use a poison bait in locations where there are problems. If there are no problems, no control treatment is necessary. Ants play a positive role in protecting plants from other insects.
            An insecticide called Amdro, an ant bait, has been effective in controlling the spread of aphids by controlling ant colonies. I see no reason why this treatment would not also control the spread of scale insects. You can find Amdro ant bait at any garden center or nursery.
            Most of our ants live in the ground in colonies. Identify the soil opening or openings to these ant colonies and spread 15 or 20 granules on top of an ant mound. Ants take this poisonous bait into the underground nest where it kills the entire population in 24 to 48 hours. The area where it’s applied must stay dry for 24 to 48 hours to work. Make sure the label of this product fits the needs at your site before applying it.

When to spray horticultural oil

            Horticultural oils are sprayed over the entire tree, top to bottom, if temperatures are below 90° F and no flowers are present. Repeating this spray three or four times during the growing season provides nearly 100% control of scale insects.

Follow-up with soap and water sprays

            Apply soap and water sprays to the tree 7 to 10 days after the horticultural oil application. Soap and water sprays kill any young nymphs that eluded the oil application. Remember, soap and water sprays, just like oil applications kill all insects sprayed, good or bad. Direct soap and water and oil sprays only to locations where there are problems. 

Cause of Dieback in Newly Planted Peach or Apricot

Q. Dying leaves on peach or apricot?

These fruit trees recently planted, whitewashed and the tops cut off. New growth occurred below the cut but it proceeded to die.

A. Not much information to go on with this question so I will give a broad response. From batch breaks pictures sent with this message, the fruit trees appear to be newly planted, whitewashed and the central stem pruned at about waist height.

Bareroot trees must be handled carefully

            If this tree was newly planted and bareroot (no container), it must be staked firmly in place, so roots do not move during the first few months of growth. Securing the tree solidly, in one place, encourages strong, future rooting.
            I assume the soil was amended with compost at the time of planting for better rooting and drainage. Build a donut or moat around the tree, 2 to 3 feet in diameter, to contain water from a hose. Water the tree with a hose once a day for three days in a row to settle the soil around the roots and remove air pockets.

How to water

            When that is finished, water every other day during warm times of the year. Make sure to skip at least one day before watering so that roots can "breathe". Watering every day for a month could suffocate roots and kill the tree or at least cause it to be sickly.
            Bareroot tree roots dry and die quickly. These important roots provide water and nutrients from the soil and are very small. Not large. These tiny roots dry out and die in seconds. Excessive drying of these roots causes “transplant shock” resulting in slow growth after planting.

Protect the tiniest of roots from drying out

            Bareroot trees can be finicky. You don’t see bareroot trees sold much anymore to homeowners. Only experienced gardeners should buy them. The roots of these trees must be kept moist from the time they leave the nursery until they are planted.

How to identify overly dried roots
The feeder roots of plants, responsible for the majority of water and nutrient uptake by plants, is even smaller than these small white roots of Myers lemon growing in a container.

            A common symptom of bareroot trees that have excessively dry roots is a short, flush of new growth after planting followed by their death. The death of new growth looks like a lack of water. And in reality, it is. Roots have died and can no longer supply water to new growth.
            If you think this might be the case, wait and see what happens after planting. In about two months, if you do not see new growth then the tree is dead and should be replaced.

Don't Move Plants in Late Spring!

Q. My dwarf Genoa lemon tree growing in a 12-inch diameter planter will be two years old in October. I'd like to plant it in the ground. Is this a good idea now? 

Eureka lemon growing in Las Vegas. One of the true lemons.

A. It’s a good idea to plant it in the ground but no, not now. Late spring is the absolute worst time to move fruit trees to a new location. Hot weather is coming quickly. Wait until mid to the end of September when weather cools a bit from hot, summer temperatures.
            Fall is the best time for planting and replanting, bar none. Spring is in second place but that’s when most plants are available.
            Take as much of the roots as possible in the move. Dig the new hole and have soil amendments mixed into this soil. Use this soil mixture for backfilling around the roots after it’s planted.
            Plant it as soon after digging as possible. Make a moat around the tree to hold water from a hose. Water it thoroughly with a hose three times in three consecutive days. Remove the moat and turn it over to your automatic watering system.

By the way, Genoa lemon looks very similar to Eureka lemon. It has never been that popular in the US but it is supposed to be more tolerant of cold winters than Eureka or Lisbon lemon but not Myers (which is not a true lemon).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What You Should Know About Grubs

My question and answer blog, Xtremehorticulture of the Desert, receives over 30,000 visits each month. Much to my surprise, one of the most popular topics among my readership is grubs. Readers find them feeding on the roots of ornamentals, vegetables, fruit trees, grasses and in their compost piles.
These are common grubs, specifically white grubs. They can be a common past feeding on the small, immature roots of many plants including lawn grasses, vegetables, flowers, perennial flowers and even shrubs.

White grubs are the immature forms of beetles. The category or order of beetles, Coleoptera, is by far the largest group of insects in the world. The common names for adult forms of the white grub, which occupy a much smaller subset of beetles, are recognizable to many; scarab beetles, June or May beetles, dung beetles or the word “beetle” tagged on to some other descriptive moniker such as “Japanese” beetle.

This is the adult of a white grub called a scarab beetle.This particular beetle is the green metallic June beetle but others more commonly can be brown. These adults, even though they are called June beetles don't have to appear in June but usually in the late spring months. The adults mate and deposit their eggs near the soil surface.

If you talk to a turfgrass managers or golf course superintendents they automatically think of C-shaped, upside down white grubs found feeding on turfgrass roots. In sod forming grasses that produce rhizomes and stolons, damaged turfgrass can be rolled back like a carpet. In bunch grasses like tall fescue, damaged grass is easily pulled from the soil in clumps.

The chemical industry and educators have done a good job of directing professionals and homeowners to pesticides intended to control white grubs in turfgrass. You could walk into any garden retail outlet and see bottles or packages of pesticides with a large picture of a white grub or the words “Controls White Grubs” printed on the label.

White grubs can be found in compost piles, soil amended with compost or manure and along the roots of plants where they feed when they are young.
Lawns are disappearing in many parts of the country with water restrictions. Damage from white grubs feeding in places other than lawns is more noticeable than it used to be and not as recognizable. The number one place, according to readers of my blog, for finding white grubs are in compost piles or where compost has been applied to the landscape.

Unlike plant names, where two or three plants can share the same common name, entomologists back in 1903 agreed upon a list of common names for insects that is updated on a regular basis. This makes discussing white grubs a lot easier for us non-entomologists.

I first learned about white grubs studying turfgrass in college. In turfgrass they can cause severe damage feeding on the roots of the grasses just an inch or so below the surface. Lawns that grow together like a carpet, Kentucky bluegrass for instance, can be rolled back like a carpet where these insects have chewed off the roots.
Since grubs are immature forms of insects and not the adult insect itself, the word “white grub” doesn’t communicate very well until we talk about what grubs are feeding on. Grubs feeding on the roots of grass plants usually narrow down the insect possibilities to three or four different kinds.
We can narrow it down further if we know the plant damage is located in Florida, California or New York. Different geographical regions have different types of “white grub” problems. Knowing all this is important but approaches to controlling this pest needs to be focused their stage of development. This means that the timing for applications of control products is extremely important.

            Grubs feeding on plant roots are difficult to control if the control measure isn’t timed right. These immature forms are voracious feeders when young and when they are most susceptible, but as they get older and begin the transition to winged adult, control becomes increasingly more difficult. As this transition occurs, the major pathway for controlling this insect, its voracious appetite, slows and eventually closes.

When they are nearing maturity, they stop feeding in preparation for pupation or turning into adults with wings, the June beetles.Laying on their backs with their feet upward so there mouthpart can feet on the grassroots which are growing down.
From University of California – Riverside
The life cycle of these winged insects is like many others that lay eggs; the winged adult emerges from the soil, locates a mate, after mating she flies off and lays her eggs in a location with plenty of food and protection for her young. In the case of white grubs, she flies to the nearest food supply such as tender roots, rotting vegetation, a dung heap or an immature compost pile.

Predators of the eggs and young of white grubs are numerous. In a Kentucky study, ants were the number one predator of white grubs feeding in turfgrass followed by spiders and other types of beetles. Residuals from soil applications of (active ingredients) carbaryl, cyfluthrin and isazofos to control other turfgrass pests significantly reduced these predator populations for up to 10 weeks, resulting in increased feeding damage because of a higher population of grubs.

Eggs that survive the initial onslaught from predators hatch in about two weeks and begin voraciously feeding when soil temperatures reach about 60° F. They quickly gain most of their eventual size and weight as soil temperatures steadily increase.

As white grubs approach the size they need for pupation to adult, they progressively decrease and eventually stop feeding. Since feeding is the primary pathway used for controlling them, it is very important to focus control efforts during their early stages of growth and heavy feeding. Focusing control efforts too early or too late in their life cycle decreases or mitigates their effectiveness.

Determining when to apply control measures to white grubs through scouting can be labor-intensive and hard to ascertain in the field. A method which might help identify the appropriate timing for control measures is the use of insect traps.

Shining a light on a white sheet at night is very effective at identifying which insects are flying at that time of year. Do this in mid spring to identify when the adults of white grubs are flying.
Three types of traps which can help determine the appropriate timing to begin control measures are light traps, flight interception traps and soil emergence traps. These traps are poised to capture adults that fly during the day, fly at night or emerge from the soil. Depending on the type of white grubs present, any or all of these three might be effective.

Casual observation, florescent lights shining at night attract insects  as well.Black lights are a little more expensive but they do a better job of attracting insects than white light and they are less obtrusive.
Traps can catch a wide range of insects that have recently emerged so identification of these adults is necessary. Adult stages are much easier to identify than the immature forms of white grubs. Once the emergence date has been pinpointed and recorded on the calendar, the application of soil applied control measures could be initiated about 4 to 8 weeks later.

I am featuring products on Amazon because they are easy for me to post. If you find the same active ingredient at the same concentration for a better price, want it, then buy it.

This can be found on the front of the label on the pesticide. Remember a pesticide is anything that kiss a pest. So, technically if you kill a pest with a hammer, the hammer is a "pesticide". But all chemical pesticides must be listed with the USEPA and labeled. Part of the legal label is a statement regarding its contents including active ingredients. The label must state the chemical name of the pesticide (active ingredients) , all other chemicals that total the contents to 100% AND the percentage of each. (From  Texas A and M)

What is an active ingredient?

Conventional Grub Control Insecticide at Lowes

Control measures applied to the soil vary from traditional pesticides to biological controls. If applied early enough in the season, nearly any registered soil applied insecticide will control white grubs provided it is moved into their feeding area with sufficient irrigation. Applications made when white grubs are more mature may have mixed results. Traditional pesticides are effective but, as noted earlier, they take their toll on the natural predator population.

Milky Spore Product on Amazon

Unlike milky spore bacterium which is only effective against the Japanese beetle, biological control using beneficial nematodes have been shown to be very effective against a number of soil dwelling insects including many different types of white grubs. Beneficial nematodes are living organisms so handling and application techniques are different from traditional pesticides and very important.

Beneficial Nematode Product on Amazon
Beneficial Nematodes at Grow Organic

There are basically two types of beneficial nematodes; Steinernema and Heterorhabditis. It is generally accepted that Heterorhabditis is more effective on white grubs under field conditions but it is more expensive and less available because it is harder to produce and keep in storage. These beneficial nematodes are not dangerous to humans, plants or other animals.
Applications can be made with traditional spray equipment or applied to the soil as a liquid drench. Beneficial nematodes are susceptible to drying conditions and ultraviolet light so it is important to apply them early in the morning or at dusk and move them into the soil profile with irrigation water as soon as possible after application and maintain moist soil conditions for several days.

Beneficial nematodes are quite tolerant of nitrogen fertilizers and most commonly applied insecticides but they are not tolerant of dry, hot or cold soils. They perform best in wet soils at temperatures between 60 and 90° F.

Wood Chips, Mexican Primrose and Bugs


Q. I was overrun with Mexican primrose but have completed all my weeding.  I am thinking about putting wood chips around my roses to keep the weeds from returning.  Is this a good mulch for the roses? Or might it attract ants or insects I don't want? 
Mexican Primrose is a pretty ground covered the first year but it starts to get a little scraggly in the following years. It looks like it would be easy to control with weed killers. It's not.
A. Mexican primrose is very difficult to get rid of once it gets established. Many weed killers won’t touch it. An effective control technique is to keep removing the top of the plant as soon as it pops up. It takes lots of repetition and plenty of diligence but it works.
            Remove the tops by cutting them back with a hoe. Some weed control chemicals “burn” it back and are essentially chemical “hoers”. The basic idea is to let the plant invest it’s energy into growing new, young tops and then remove the tops after they get only a couple of inches tall. This constant removal of the tops exhausts the energy supply stored in the roots and the plant eventually “gives up”.
This is where bugs like to hang out in landscapes. They like water and irrigation boxes are where they can usually find plenty of it. The other thing they do is try to crawl into the house when it gets cold. A foundation spray of an effective insecticide applied in the fall when temperatures cool off and using that same spray in irrigation boxes usually keeps them at bay.
            Woodchips are a great mulch for roses, combined with an application of compost on the soil surface underneath the woodchips. In my experience, the woodchips are no worse than rock mulch or gravel applied to the soil surface regarding attracting insects.
            Insects like to “hang out” in irrigation boxes where there is water. Spraying the inside of the irrigation boxes with an appropriate pesticide every couple of months usually takes care of this problem.

Run Drip Irrigation Any Time


Q. Should drip irrigation run during daylight hours or at night? I'm assuming there would be less water loss from evaporation if they run at night but that makes finding bad emitters more difficult.
You can turn on drip irrigation just about any time but running it at night is best. Running drip irrigation at night doesn't wet the leaves so disease is not a problem. There is less surface evaporation from the soil.
A. Time of day doesn’t matter if you’re using real drip emitters and not adjustable emitters that flood water on the soil surface. If there is standing water after using your drip emitters, then evaporation is a problem and it’s best if it’s done at night.
Drip irrigation like from this drip tubing releases water slowly over periods of hours so that it is less likely to puddle and run to low spots.
            Drip irrigation is designed to slowly release water in one small area so this water enters the soil and doesn’t puddle on top.  When adjustable emitters are used, the kind that can be adjusted to release more or less water, then this water may form water puddles on top of the soil.
            The key to evaporation is whether there is standing water. If it is truly drip and not adjustable drip emitters which flood the area, then evaporation is minimal.
            Always check first with local laws, regulations or policies regarding when it is lawful or advisable to irrigate.
Basin and bubbler irrigation is very efficient but, unlike the irrigation around this very large pine tree, the basin should be enlarged each year to hold more water. The basin under the tree should occupy at least about half of the area under the canopy.
            Consider applying wood chips to the soil surface instead of rock to conserve water. Wood chips on the surface of the soil where water is released will slowly “rot” wood chips and improve the soil in only a few months. This soil improvement helps water released from drip emitters to enter the soil more quickly and reduce puddling and evaporation.
Woodchips on top of desert soils and in contact with water improve these soils and help water to penetrate more deeply to the roots of plants. This improvement can happen in the first year after the surface mulch of woodchips is applied in the irrigated area.
            Free woodchips are available from the University Orchard in North Las Vegas or the Cooperative Extension office south of the airport. Call the Master Gardener helpline at 702-257-5555 to get directions where to get it.