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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Problems With Ants in Our Fruit!

Q. Can you recommend a pesticide to protect backyard grown fruit trees from ants? They are crawling up the trunks and they get to the fruit before the birds even have a chance let alone us!
Aphids on the bottom of an apricot leaf. The honeydew
from these aphids is "milked" by ants for their sugary
energy. Control the aphids = control the ants.

A. The ants are usually going up the tree and into the leaves for honeydew from aphids at first. They seldom attack fruit that is firm but usually attack fruit that is already soft. Because they are after honeydew (the excrement from aphids which is really leaf sap full of sugars) the ripe fruits are a natural place for them to look for additional sugars.

            There are a couple of things you can do. First is to find and treat the ant nests in the ground. Follow these critters back to where they are coming from and pick up some Amdro from Lowes or Home Depot. Treat the ant nest in the ground. It is not a problem to use around fruit trees.
            Secondly, spray the fruit tree with insecticidal soap to reduce the aphid population. You will have to do this multiple times, perhaps once a week since soaps do not have any staying power and only kill insects it comes in contact with.
            Thirdly is to harvest the fruits (peaches, plums, apricots, pluots) early when they are still firm and not soft. Let them ripen at room temperature in the house and they will still be very high in sugars and taste great. This is usually about a week before they are fully ripe on the tree.
            If you do not know when this is then this year mark it on your calendar so next year you will know. Or you can simply taste a firm fruit after it has turned color. When it is sweet but still firm then pick the ones that are ready and stay ahead of the ants and birds.

Don't Kill the Green Lacewings By Accident!

Green lacewing adult. This is not my picture. I borrowed
it from somewhere on the internet and now cant find it. Sorry
to whoever owns it.
Q. I planted one of your bare root trees and it's doing fairly well.  This morning I noticed some pale green flying bugs on them.  They were too fast for me to get a picture but they are about 3/4" long with a 1/16" diameter body with fairly long legs.  The wings were almost transparent.  I've had a major problem with borers in the past and want to make sure these aren't going to kill my trees.  With that limited info can you guess at what they are and if treatment is needed?

A. I think this calls for some congratulations.  If I am seeing from your description, what you are seeing, and seeing it correctly, you have green lacewings; a fabulous addition to your fruit trees. 

This is my picture. Green lacewing egg on a
thin stalk elevated from the surface of a green
almond. Finding this on fruit or in the orchard
is a great sign it is organic.
         We have them at the orchard as well and it is primarily because we use so few pesticides and the pesticides that we do use are used in a way that helps preserve our beneficial insects like green lacewings and ladybird beetles are ladybugs they are sometimes called.  Both of these insects are voracious feeders on other insects like aphids for instance.  They can also do a number on other soft bodied pests. 

            Enjoy them. They are not good flyers but kind of flutter clumsily from place to place.  The voracious eaters are their immature forms. I am sending you pictures but I will post pictures of both the adults and juveniles on my blog because the adult and juvenile forms look nothing alike. You have to learn to identify both forms of these insects or you may make the mistake of thinking they are bad guys.

            So now it is up to you to be careful in using pesticides so that you can preserve populations of these insects to help you out. They will not impact your borer population unfortunately but they will help you in other ways and you can look forward in seeing these guys each year if you are careful in applying pesticides.
            That doesn’t mean you can’t apply any but you just have to be careful when and which ones you use. Even soap and water can kill these good guys, and will, if you apply it incorrectly.

Removing Bermudagrass for Desert Landscaping

Q. We are going to be removing about 3500 s.f. of bermuda grass. What is the best and easiest way to do this ?

A. I am assuming this is common bermudagrass, not hybrid bermudagrass. Many of the hybrid bermudagrasses are more restrained in their growth and easier to remove and keep under control. Common bermudagrass is more wild or rank in its growth and more difficult to remove and get under control. The easiest way I feel would be to irrigate and lightly fertilize the bermudagrass and mow it a couple of times so it is growing well and healthy.
Sod removed with sod cutter in prepartion for the
installation of desert landscaping
        You don't want the Bermuda to enter into any kind of dormancy before you try to kill it and remove it. Once the bermudagrass is happy and growing well then you will try to kill it. The best time to remove it is in the fall when it is sending energy reserves into its roots and stolons. There is a net movement of stored energy in this direction in the fall. In the spring there is a net movement of materials towards leaf and shoot growth. You will not get the best control in the spring but it is what it is.
        Like I said, get it happy and growing well and when you have a solid stand of grass which has been mowed then spray it with Roundup. Make sure that you use a spreader/sticker in the spray mix and follow the directions precisely. I would also use distilled water, not our tap water since it is quite alkaline. Some people have reported a better kill with Roundup if there is a small amount of nitrogen mixed with the solution. You can take a tablespoon of ammonium sulfate or urea per gallon and put it in the mix as well if you want to but it is not necessary in my opinion. It is important to get an even application of Roundup over the entire grassy area. You do this by spraying the Roundup in an East West pattern first and then spray the second time in North South pattern so that you get good coverage.
        When you spray, you should be moving your spray applicator at a speed of about 3 ft./s over the area. Do not stop and give some areas a larger dose. You're just wasting chemical. Keep the applicator moving at all times when your spraying. It is important to keep your spray applicator moving at the same speed across the area slightly overlapping the sprayed area each time you cover it. Let the grass dry for 10 minutes or so and repeat the application in the opposite direction. Do not irrigate for 24 hours after the application.

        Give yourself about 10 days and you should see the grass beginning to decline. Roundup does not work quickly so do not expect to see dead grass the next morning. It won't happen. Rent a sod cutter and cut the sod out as deeply as you can. Once the sod is removed begin irrigating the area heavily and frequently and apply a light application of fertilizer to try to stimulate any bermudagrass which is remaining.
        You will probably see spots of bermudagrass trying to come back in seven days if it is hot outside. Spot spray these areas with the same Roundup solution as soon as you see them emerging. Stay on top of these spots and kill them as you see them. Do not let these get out of control. This is very important. I am not telling you to keep an old solution of Roundup. Every time you spray you need to mix up a new batch. These solutions are not stable very long and begin to disintegrate fairly quickly.

        Once you feel you have most of the bermudagrass under control you can begin to develop your landscape. If you are putting in desert landscaping with rock mulch, the bermudagrass will reemerge where you have your drip emitters around the new plants. You can Spot spray this emerging bermudagrass with Roundup making sure none of the spray lands on desired plants. It is okay for it to land on the soil or rock but not on green leaves or stems of living plants.
        Other chemicals you could use around shrubs and groundcover plants for bermudagrass control are Fusilade and Poast but they can be a little sketchy in their control. You can also grub new growth out with a hoe when you see it but do not let the grass go to seed or get very old or it will get established again. Bermudagrass will not grow in complete shade so making sure you  are shading the soil with rock, mulch or competitive groundcovers like turfgrass is good control.

There is more information on Bermudgrass here.

Wrong Insecticidal Soap Spray Concentration Can Damage Plants

Dr Bonners peppermint soap
Q. Is there a certain kind of soap spray that is best for plants? I remember you telling us at the grape seminar that if our leaves were being eaten that we should use a diluted soap spray on them.  I did that last year with success.  This year I tried it on a few different plants and the leaves did not like it AT ALL?  I think I used a soap that is more natural eco friendly (Costco brand) so I don't know if there is something in it that they don't like?  Is my concentration off?  The leaves of everything I sprayed ended up with brown spots.  Doesn't seem to have done too much damage over all, everything is still growing and got new growth shortly after, but those originally sprayed leaves never recovered.  THANKS

A. I'm sorry you had some bad luck with soap spray. It is very important that you not use very much of this soap when mixed with water. 1 teaspoon in a gallon of water is usually enough. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
Safers insecticidal soap
           if you are not sure about the soap you are using and whether it is safe or not, use commercially prepared insecticidal soaps
           insecticidal soaps kill by coming in contact with the insect. They leave no residue on the plants that will kill the insects.
           Repeated sprays on some plants may cause damage to the plants
           use the purest water possible such as distilled water rather than Water
           fog-like sprays are more effective than large droplets
           spray in the evening or early morning hours
           insecticidal soaps may cause a burn on the leaves of sensitive plants such as the cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale
           a good rate to use it as a 2% solution so mix no more than 2 ounces in 100 ounces of water
           if using your own soap such as Ivory liquid don't use anything with extra ingredients such as hand conditioners or special aromas like lemon scented
           insecticidal soaps worked best against insects with soft bodies like aphids, thrips, whiteflies, spider mites, and a young leafhoppers.
           Don't expect a 100% kill. Insecticidal soaps may only kill half of the insects. Repeat sprays will be needed as the plant grows larger
I hope this helps.

Keifer Pear Turning Yellow Needs Second Application

Q. My Kieffer pear, which set no fruit at all this year, got extremely chlorotic, from early April to now. I treated it about 9 days ago with Western Organics' Super Iron Chelate, per package instructions. I see noticeable improvement, but does it need a second application? If yes, at what interval? Does this condition have any relation to the lack of pears this year? Normally, this tree yields over a hundred pounds of fruit per season!
Iron chlorosis on pear

A. If it did not set fruit, did you see flowers? If you saw flowers but no fruit than it was a failure in pollination or a late freeze that took out any developing fruit when they were very young. If you saw no flowers then we must make sure that fruiting spurs, or short shoots, are present on the tree.
            Make sure no one prunes off the short shoots or fruiting spurs of the pear. I attached a picture just to make sure we are talking about the same short shoots that bear flowers and fruit. Pear can also get into an alternate bearing cycle. This means that they can set fruit heavy one year and skip the next.
Keiffer pear
            If your tree bore heavy last year then this is a possibility. Next year if you're pear bears heavy again then thin it hard. This means remove fruit from the tree when it is very small so that only one fruit remains per cluster of fruit.
            40 or 50 leaves are needed to support one fruit. After you have thinned the fruit from the tree, look at it again. If the fruit set is still a heavy load, remove even more fruit. By removing fruit in a heavy set year we can sometimes help shift it back to producing every year.

          As far as the yellowing goes, if it is iron, the veins of the yellow leaves should be dark green while the spaces between the veins may be light green or even yellow in severe cases. In very severe cases the leaves will yellow and not have any green veins at all. In extremely severe cases the leaves may turn black and scorch.
          I do not know this product and the quality of the iron chelate. If this chelate is not EDDHA then you run the risk that the iron it may not be very effective. Other chelates drop their iron if the soil pH is too high and then the iron does not make it inside the plant.

            I would strongly suggest that you look at the ingredients and make sure the chelate is in fact EDDHA. If not, and the label permits, you can mix it with water and use it to spray the foliage or the leaves. If fruit is present you do run the risk of discoloring the fruit with the iron.
           You can try adding this chelate with a dilute source of vinegar to try and push the pH lower bus making the iron available. This is a hit and miss approach. You are running out of time so I would put this on the soil as soon as possible. Make sure you apply this chelate in January or February of next year to avoid this problem.

Having Trouble Locating Copena V1 and F1 Nopal Cactus

Nopal cactus growing at the Orchard. Copena V1 and F1
have different shaped pads, different flower and fruit
Q. I've been having a difficult time acquiring these two varieties of nopal. Do you know how I might find them?

A. They are not really varieties but selections. Varieties in the horticultural sense meant to be cultivated varieties. I have them at our facility in Las Vegas but they would have to be propagated from a couple of pads. The only other source I know of would be in Hermosillo, Mexico. You could try contacting Everardo Zamora at the University of Sonora, Hermosillo, Mexico, but getting across the border into the US might be a bit difficult or time consuming.

Everardo Zamora (ezamora@guayacan.uson.mx)

There are other selections/varieties available online that you could look at being grown in southern California and Arizona. There are some with some huge tunas (fruits) that are very eye-appealing but I have never grown them, only the Copena’s which are grown commercially in Sonora.

Snails Attacking My Lawn!

Q. I am attaching a picture of tiny snails that have invaded and killed off quite a few patches of our grass. I cannot seem to find any information about these tiny snails anywhere! I was hoping you might be able to identify them so we can eradicate them from our lawn.
Snails on lawn area of reader

A. It is unusual for snails to be a problem in lawns in our climate. My guess would be that parts of a lawn that might be susceptible to snails would be on the shadier sides of the yard. Usually those areas in full sun would not suffer as badly. Secondly, these snails usually come in on landscape plants brought into the yard from nurseries. Your strategy should be to remove any habitat that is favorable for them and reduce their numbers.
            Mowing the lawn shorter, watering more deeply and less often should help. Try to avoid daily applications of water when weather permits. This may not be possible in midsummer months. Frequently lawns have irrigation systems that are not what we called "zoned" for different microclimates. When irrigation systems for lawns have valves that water a hot side of the landscape and, at the same time, water the cooler side of the landscape (west and north sides or south and east sides) then the cooler sides of the landscape may become overwatered just because the hotter side will determine when to irrigate.
            This may be too late in some circumstances or not possible but whenever possible try to zone irrigations so that west and south sides may be irrigated at the same time and east and north sides are watered or zoned together as well. In other words when a valve comes on it should be designed to water different microclimates separately.

            If you have to pair sides of the landscape then pair west and south together and east and north together. Never pair north and south or west together or east and west and south together.

            As far as getting rid of existing snails there are a couple of things you can do. They do make a snail and slug bait commercially that you can put out into your shrub or ground cover area. You can also make your own bait by using beer. Open a can of inexpensive beer and leave it opened for a day or two until it gets stale. Take a shallow bowl or plate and place it into the shrub area buried up to its lip. Pour in the stale beer into this shallow plate or bowl so that they can crawl into the stale beer and die a happy death.
            You can also place pieces of cardboard into this landscape area and wet them down so they don't blow away or put rocks on them to weight it down. Snails usually come out when it is dark and retreat into shady spots during the day. During the day pick up the cardboard and remove the snails from under it or on it and dispose of them. Place the cardboard on the soil again and repeat this until your numbers dwindle or they disappear. You will have to repeat it in about a month when a new crop of them emerge. I hope this helps

Joshua Tree and Other Agaves Acceptable for Pool Area

Young joshua tree in desert landscape
Q. A visitor has told us that we need to remove our Joshua Tree and Agaves from around our swimming pool. The Joshua Tree is about 4’ from the edge of the pool and the Agaves are about 2’ from the edge. Do we have a problem with these plants trying to get into the pool water?

A. I tried to think of reasons why this person would tell you this and I cannot think of any.

I don't agree. These are very good choices close to a pool area. What is nice about plants such as these is that you can direct their root system with the location of your water supply. I suppose there could be cracks in the pool that would allow for leaks. However, most plants go after water which is the cleanest. If you apply drip irrigation to the sides of the plants away from the pool this will encourage their roots to grow in this direction.
American agave
Pool water is not good water for most plants and if they have a chance to take up better water they will. So keep your drip emitters or your sources of clean water on the side of the plants away from the pool. These types of plants survive on infrequent rain water so their roots are typically shallow and very efficient at scavenging for water close to the soil surface.
Water them with shallow irrigations, perhaps no more than a foot deep and don't do it very often. In Midsummer if you want to encourage growth water them every two to four weeks. If you want them to slow down, water them less often. Watch carefully for agave weevil attacking and killing primarily agaves and in particular American agave. I have posted information on their control in this blog. You can search for it by entering agave weevil in the search box.