Act Now to Protect Rhododendrons from Stem Borers

Look for signs of stem borers on rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, and blueberries
Adult borers—slender long-horned beetles—emerge from hibernation in the soil at the base of these shrubs, climb up stems, and lay eggs under the bark. On hatching, the young larvae bore into the stem and then turn downward, headed for the soil where they’ll spend the winter. Everything above the entry point on the stem will gradually wilt away.

In addition to rhododendrons, the stem borer, Oberea myops Haldeman, also attacks azaleas, mountain laurel, and blueberries. It is alternately called the rhododendron stem borer, azalea stem borer, or blueberry stem borer, depending on host plant affected.

Rhododendron stem cut away to chow tunnel of stem borer, Oberea myops Haldeman.

Rhododendron stem cut away to show tunnel of stem borer, Oberea myops Haldeman.

Symptoms
Symptoms to look for include a small hole in a stem and frass—fine sawdust-like pellets—on stems, leaves, or underneath the shrub. Look above where you see the frass and you’ll find the hole where the borer pushed these deposits out of the stem. Or, worst case, you’ll see a stem with drooping leaves. These are all signals that the borer is somewhere inside the stem below that hole. 

Solutions
From the hole, feel your way down the stem to the next joint, and with sharp pruners, cut off the section of the branch above that point. Make good, clean pruning cuts because in addition to searching for the insect, you are shaping the shrub.

Look at the cut stem. If there’s no hole in the center of the stem, you’ll know that the borer is still inside the stem above your cut. However, if there is a hole in the stem, the borer is deeper than your cut and you’ll need to repeat your pruning lower down. Dispose of the cut-off stem portions in a plant disposal or burn pile. 

Control and prevention
If you’ve had a history of borer problems on rhododendrons, azaleas, and mountain laurels, check your garden center for an insecticide labeled for borer control with a pyrethroid insecticide, such as permethrin or cyfluthrin. Apply after the new growth has hardened off about mid-May; apply again in early June. Be sure to read and follow the insecticide label for specific application instructions. For blueberries, pruning your plants every year in late winter is usually sufficient to control stem borers.

For more information, view the North Carolina State University Azalea Pest Management Calendar at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/calendars/note052.html and Pruning Blueberries at https://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Pruning-Blueberrries-25JAN14.pdf?fwd=no. 

Article written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Kids Post: Enjoy Backyard Birds Common to WNC

I have a special spot in my heart for my backyard birds—the loyal birds that keep me company in the winter, visit my feeders, and sing to me throughout the year. Birds are especially attracted to my garden where they enjoy eating bugs, worms, flower seeds, and berries. My trees and shrubs provide welcoming branches for the birds to build their nests, raise their young, or just stop and rest before flying on. Do you know the most common backyard birds that you’ll see in Western North Carolina?

Chickadee
CarolinaChickadee
Leading the way is the chickadee, the social director of the back yard. These small, friendly, gregarious birds have black caps, black throats or bibs, and gray backs. Other birds often feed in mixed flocks with chickadees, as if they trust the little chickadee to know exactly where to find food. Chickadees are also easily attracted to feeders. The Carolina chickadee is the most common chickadee in Western North Carolina and isn’t shy about telling us its name as it sings “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” It also has a rather wistful, four-note call: “fee-bee, fee-bay.”

Tufted Titmouse
TuftedTitmouse
The tufted titmouse is another bird common to our area and is often associated with chickadees.  This grey-backed bird has a white stomach with a rusty-red wash under the wings. It has a small crest (hence the “tufted”) and large black eyes which give it an inquisitive expression. The call is a chant: “here, here, here, here” or “peer, peer, peer,” depending on how you hear it. The tufted titmouse is a year-round resident and is happy to come and eat at bird feeders.

Nuthatch
White-breastedNuthatch
White-breasted nuthatches are gray birds with black caps that you will see creeping head first down a tree trunk. They are common in yards with large trees. As their name implies, they have white breasts. Their call is a nasal “hank, hank, hank,” somewhat like a toy horn. They, too, are common at feeders, where they will grab a morsel and retreat to a nearby tree to eat.

Carolina Wren
CarolinaWren
No mention of common backyard birds would be complete without the Carolina wren. These chunky, noisy birds are easily identified by their white eyebrows, warm brown color, and tails that often point upwards. Their common call is usually described as a loud “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle.” They also make a variety of chatters and scolds. Wrens are known for building nests close to human habitation—outdoor light fixtures, hanging baskets of flowers, discarded toys or tires are all fair game. We have had a wren’s nest on top of a ladder in our garage despite the fact we closed the doors at night and often during the day. And, yes, Mama Wren successfully fledged her babies under those conditions.

Fun for the family
Learning to identify birds is fun and a good family activity. In my next Kids Post, I’ll share tips on providing your backyard birds with food and water.

Article written by Judy Deutsch, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Spring Fling Plant Sale and Tool Organizer Raffle

Raffle tickets on sale now

SpringPlantSale_ToolRack_Raffle_2016-05-14Buy raffle tickets for this handy garden tool organizer, complete with five hand tools, dried flowers, and seeds. Purchase raffle tickets at the Buncombe County Extension Office, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, or at the Spring Fling Plant Sale on May 14. Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. The winner will be announced after the plant sale.

Thanks go to Tom Good, husband of Master Gardener Nancy Good, for donating and constructing the tool organizer from a vintage window frame.

Spring Fling Plant Sale May 14

A date and place to remember to find beautiful plants and get sage gardening advice.

2016 Spring Fling Flyer

Kids Post: Butterflies in Your Garden

Butterfly_onAsterFlowerWe all love butterflies! They are like a puff of magic flitting around the garden.

Fun facts about butterflies:

  • Butterflies live from one week to many months, depending on the type.
  • Butterflies are cold-blooded and cannot fly if the temperature dips below 55 degrees.
  • It can take as little as two weeks to two or more years for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly.
  • The Spanish word for butterfly is mariposa.
  • Butterflies taste with their feet.
  • Butterflies drink nectar from garden flowers, but they also love the sugar in rotting fruit or even Gatorade.

Help feed the butterflies in your garden.

Put out a plate with sliced oranges or strawberries or a splash of a sugary drink. Just be sure to use a very shallow dish to keep the butterflies safe from drowning.

Learn more about butterflies.

BrownButterfly_metamorphosisSpend time this year learning more about butterflies. Visit the Quilt Garden at The N.C. Arboretum (www.ncarboretum.org/) to look for butterflies. If you are in Durham, drop in at the Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life and Science to see one of the largest butterfly houses on the East Coast (http://www.lifeandscience.org/magic-wings). Go to Friends of the WNC Nature Center website (http://www.wildwnc.org) to learn about plans to build a butterfly garden at the WNC Nature Center. Discover ways to encourage butterflies in your own backyard at http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/butterflies-in-your-backyard.

Written by Tish Szurek, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

(Resources used for facts about butterflies include the North American Butterfly Association at http://www.naba.org and the Lepidopterists’ Society at http://www.lepsoc.org/education.php which has an educational resources section for K-12 students.)

Integrated Pest Management Encourages Vegetable Gardening without Pesticides, Part Two

In a food garden, nonchemical control of insects is an important advantage of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Vegetable gardeners can discourage destructive insects and keep the beneficial ones through cultural practices, mechanical methods, and biological controls.

Adopt good cultural practices.

Healthy plants are more resistant to insect infestation than unhealthy ones. There are several practices gardeners can adopt to have healthier plants. Choose disease-free and insect-free seeds and seedlings.  Be conscientious about soil preparation and maintenance. Rotate the position of your crops from year to year. Plant your seeds at the appropriate time for maximum growth, and thin seedlings and remove weeds to reduce competition. Discourage insects by interplanting different vegetables rather than attracting them to a large planting of a single crop. Add “trap” crops—plants attractive to specific insects—to lure destructive pests away where they can be removed or treated. For example, zinnias can attract Japanese beetles that might attack your corn or beans.

Employ mechanical methods.

Sticky yellow boards attract insects.

Sticky yellow boards attract insects.

Use traps, barriers, and handpicking to remove insects from your vegetable garden. Traps to try include yellow dish pans of soapy water to attract and drown aphids, yellow boards coated with oil or grease to attract and trap whiteflies and cucumber beetles, and shallow tins of beer set at soil level to trap slugs. Barriers can range from collars of cardboard or tin to discourage cutworms, to nets or screens covering seedlings to prevent insect and animal damage.

Fabric covers protect plants from insect damage.

Fabric covers keep insects off plants.

Physically removing insects or their eggs by hand is one of the most effective mechanical control methods. Drop pests into a jar with a small amount of water; finish the job by pouring in boiling water. Spraying aphid- or spider mite-infested plants with a strong stream of water can go a long way toward reducing the insect population.

 

Introduce biological controls.

Biological controls include using parasites, pathogens, and predators. Introduce natural parasites such as nematodes to your garden to kill vine borers, grubs, weevils, and armyworms. Or use pathogens such as bacteria (Bt—Bacillus thuringiensis) to kill caterpillars. These biological controls require an understanding of the life cycles of the parasites, pathogens, and insects. Insect predators to encourage in your vegetable garden can range from ladybeetles and spiders to birds and frogs. Including plants in your vegetable garden to provide a haven for predators will also attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

IPM mixes techniques to achieve results.

Using all these methods in an Integrated Pest Management plan is just that: integrated. Removing all insects is neither desirable nor possible, but mixing cultural, mechanical, and biological methods helps control unwanted insects in the garden. Using this approach to vegetable gardening is a matter of common sense and conscientious effort. It’s IPM.

(Visit http://www4.ncsu.edu/~dorr to learn more at the Biological Control Information Center.)

Written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Spring Fling Plant Sale and Tool Organizer Raffle

Raffle tickets on sale now

SpringPlantSale_ToolRack_Raffle_2016-05-14Buy raffle tickets for this handy garden tool organizer, complete with five hand tools, dried flowers, and seeds. Purchase raffle tickets at the Buncombe County Extension Office, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, or at the Spring Fling Plant Sale on May 14. Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. The winner will be announced after the plant sale.

Thanks go to Tom Good, husband of Master Gardener Nancy Good, for donating and constructing the tool organizer from a vintage window frame.

Spring Fling Plant Sale May 14

A date and place to remember to find beautiful plants and get sage gardening advice.

2016 Spring Fling Flyer

Lecture: Flowering Shrubs, May 19

Gardening in the Mountains presents:
Flowering Shrubs—Hydrangeas, Viburnums, Rhododendrons, and Azaleas

Hydrangea-paniculata-Limelight

Thursday, May 19, 2016
11:30 a.m.—1 p.m.

NC Cooperative Extension
Buncombe County Center
49 Mount Carmel Road
Asheville, NC

Presenters: Laurie Bell and Debbie Breck, Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Flowering shrubs will include hydrangeas, viburnums, rhododendrons, and azaleas—all wonderful plants as accents in the garden and for playing a supporting role. Learn about the care and pruning needs of these great additions to your shrub beds.

The talk is free but pre-registration is requested by calling 828-255-5522.

The Integrated Pest Management Approach to Vegetable Gardening, Part One

Learn pest control methods for vegetable gardening in this two-part blog series on IPM. Part One explains IPM and outlines a multi-step process. Part Two identifies practical nonchemical ways to control insects.

Vegetable GardenHere come the bugs!  

Rapid summer growth of your vegetable garden can lead to an invasion of pests. Although it is impossible—and inadvisable—to rid your garden of all insects, you can use a few different tactics to reduce damage from the six-legged critters. This combination of tactics is known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM.

What is Integrated Pest Management or IPM?

IPM combines the use of pesticides, cultural practices, and nonchemical methods to control pests. Beginning in the 1940s, increasing dependence on pesticide use for insect control caused problems such as pesticide-resistant insects, resurging insect populations, destruction of the pests’ natural enemies, damage to wildlife and water, and potential risks to humans. IPM can reduce or avoid some of these problems by combining insect-control methods instead of using pesticides alone.

Adopt a multi-step IPM plan.

  • Make an assessment. Survey your property, monitor insects, consider past pest control practices, and make a priority list of concerns.
  • Create a good offense. Denying pests the environment they need to prosper interrupts their growth and reproduction cycle. For example, plant placement is important. Sun-loving vegetables need full sun. Avoid shady or damp areas where some insects might thrive.
  • Keep your vegetable garden healthy through wise plant selection, placement, and care. Strong plants are less susceptible to insect invasion.
  • Encourage beneficial insect predators in your vegetable garden. Some harmful insects have natural enemies that can provide partial control.
  • Check vegetable plants often for infestation. Monitoring can help you catch insects as eggs or larvae before extensive damage takes place.
  • Tolerate some plant injury. Minor insect damage will not prevent vegetable plants from producing a harvest.
  • Evaluate your IPM approach as vegetables mature. Make changes as necessary.
HornwormCaterpillar_onTomatoPlant

Parasitic wasp larvae attack hornworm caterpillar on tomato plant.

Use pesticides as a last resort.

Following the above IPM steps will help minimize pesticide use. If you do use pesticides, effective insect management requires identifying products that are suitable for food plants. Read the label to be sure the pesticide is effective for the insects you have identified. Use only the recommended concentration and timing specified. Wear protective clothing and be aware of potential environmental or personal dangers. Store pesticides properly and wash your hands after use.

The payoff—good for you; good for the environment.

Tomatoes on VineGrowing healthy plants that produce a beautiful and bountiful harvest is a vegetable gardener’s dream. Using IPM to encourage beneficial insects, discourage pests, and preserve human health and the environment can help realize that dream!

(Learn more about Integrated Pest Management for vegetables at https://ipm.ces.ncsu.edu/ipm-vegetable-crops.)

Written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Spring Fling Plant Sale and Tool Organizer Raffle

Raffle tickets on sale now

SpringPlantSale_ToolRack_Raffle_2016-05-14Buy raffle tickets for this handy garden tool organizer, complete with five hand tools, dried flowers, and seeds. Purchase raffle tickets at the Buncombe County Extension Office, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, or at the Spring Fling Plant Sale on May 14. Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. The winner will be announced after the plant sale.

Thanks go to Tom Good, husband of Master Gardener Nancy Good, for donating and constructing the tool organizer from a vintage window frame.

Spring Fling Plant Sale May 14

A date and place to remember to find beautiful plants and get sage gardening advice.

2016 Spring Fling Flyer

Save the Date: WNC Gardening Symposium, October 12

Attention all gardeners! Mark your calendars for October 12 and plan to attend the Western North Carolina Gardening Symposium, organized by WNC Master Gardeners and co-sponsored by the NC Agricultural Foundation and NC Cooperative Extension.  Preliminary information about the event is shown below.

Symposium_SaveTheDate