May 17, 2006

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This photograph shows Formosan termite damage to a section of a treated cross tie. The damage goes to the treated area – or the black band around the edge – then stops. (Texas Cooperative Extension photo by Edith Chenault)

  Termites swarming in Texas

By Edith A. Chenault
Texas Agricultural Extension

It's spring, and termites are swarming. With that comes another chance for termites to invade homes and businesses in Texas.

Two major groups of subterranean termites — natives and Formosan — make Texas their home.

Native subterranean termites have already swarmed in South Texas, and it is now swarming season in Central and North Texas, said Dr. Roger Gold, Texas Cooperative Extension entomologist.

Considered the most destructive insect wood pests in the U.S., subterranean termites cause more than $2 billion in damage each year. Subterranean termites are found throughout the U.S., with the greatest concentration in the Southeast.

Native subterranean termites live in nests or colonies in the soil, Gold said, and feed on dead trees and brush. But when land is cleared of this material for construction of buildings, termites will attack these structures, he said.

These insects enter buildings through wood in direct contact with the soil, shelter tubes they build or directly through cracks or joints in and under foundations, he said.

The primary native subterranean termite which is swarming now is coal black to yellow-brown, about one-fourth to three-eighths of an inch in length (a little longer than a pencil eraser), and has wings with a few distinct veins, he said.

Formosan termites swarm in the summer. This termite is a newcomer, having only been in Texas for a little more than 50 years.

The ones that swarm are yellowish-brown, about a half-inch long, and have wings with two heavily pigmented veins near the front edge and no connecting cross veins.

Formosan termites often make aerial nests — commonly called a carton — of wood, saliva and fecal material. These can be as large as several cubic feet and may not have ground contact.

Even though they cause the same type of damage as native subterranean termites, they inflict this damage more rapidly.

Also, more than 47 plant species such as pecan, citrus, wild cherry, cherry laurel, sweet gum, cedar, willow and wax myrtle have been attacked by Formosan termites.

"Formosan termites also have been known to eat through non-cellulose material, such as thin sheets of soft metal such as lead or copper, asphalt, plaster, creosote, rubber and plastic searching for food and moisture," Gold said.

If termites are found swarming around or inside a home, don't panic, Gold said.

"Termites usually work slowly, so your house will generally not collapse or be ruined overnight," he said.

He advised following these steps:

— Take the time to learn more about termites, their biology, inspection techniques and treatment options.

— Do not permit anyone to rush you into buying termite control services. Take the time you need to make an informed decision.

— If you are unsure about termites being present, arrange for a thorough termite inspection with a licensed, reputable company.

"Know that costs of inspections, estimates and terms can vary significantly among companies," Gold said. "Ask for inspections from three or more companies. Ask for recommendations from your friends and neighbors. This is the best way to get an honest opinion about a termite control service.

More information is available from

Dr. Debbie Villalon, center, Weslaco High School science teacher, and her students stand in their award-winning Botanical Garden Classroom, which will be the site for schoolteachers earning their Master Gardener certification this summer. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Rod Santa Ana III)

  Teachers invited to summer Master Gardener training

By Rod Santa Ana III
Texas Agricultural Extension

Space should not be a problem this year in South Texas as Texas Cooperative Extension holds its summer Master Gardener and Junior Master Gardener training for school teachers June 5 though 10.

Every year, the event attracts more prospective participants than the facilities could hold, but not this year, according to Barbara Storz, event organizer and Extension horticulturist for Hidalgo County.

"Each year we've had to turn people away for lack of space," Storz said. "But this year's program will be hosted by Weslaco High School, where facilities are quite spacious."

Storz said some of the workshops will be held in the award-winning Botanical Garden Classroom created by Weslaco High School science teacher Dr. Debbie Villalon and her students.

"We are so fortunate that Dr. Villalon and her principal, Dr. Isidoro Nieto, were willing to share this beautiful environment for our training," Storz said.

Villalon completed the summer Master Gardener training two years ago. Then she and her students built an outdoor garden learning lab, which recently won the Governor's 2006 Texas Environmental Excellence Award.

"We all learn by example, and the Weslaco High School Botanical Garden is a great example to share with teachers from throughout the Rio Grande Valley," she said.

This year's training for educators will include outdoor workshops and indoor presentations by other successful teachers, Master Gardeners, Extension staff, and local professionals. Teachers will learn how to develop outdoor, hands-on classrooms that cultivate success for their students, Storz said.

"Teachers will then spend the year sharing their gardening knowledge and working toward certification as Texas Master Gardeners," she said. "Their students will become certified as Junior Master Gardeners."

The program now has five Junior Master Gardener curriculums. Three are geared to the elementary level and two at the middle school level. All are tied to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills in math, science, language arts, and social studies.

"The curriculums are filled with hands-on activities that truly engage youth and improve test scores," Storz said. "This year, librarians and teachers at the elementary level will choose one of three curriculums. One is 'Literature in the Garden,' based on six classic children's stories; 'Wildlife Gardener,' which establishes a habitat garden; and 'Health and Nutrition from the Garden,' which is based on building a vegetable garden and learning about nutrition."

At the middle school level, educators will choose from "Operation Thistle: Seeds of Dispair," a botany course involving "missions" to rid the garden of the "bad" Dr. Thistle character, or "Water and Earth's Resources," which takes students hot on the trail of the evil Dr. Thistle, while exploring the important roles of water and soils in supporting life.

"The elementary level curriculum can be adjusted for kinder through high school," Storz said, "and the middle school program can be adjusted to high school, which is what Dr. Villalon did."

Cost of the six-day training, including adult program books, youth curriculum, and vegetable and flower seeds is $150. Registration deadline is May 19.

Weslaco High School is located at 1005 West Pike St. in Weslaco.

For more information, call the Extension office in Hidalgo County at (956) 383-1026, or e-mail Storz at

(Photo by Chris S. Corby)

  The flower garden: Tips for better blooms

By Jan Pipher
Freelance Writer

Summertime in Texas is a unique gardening season. Here we have some perennials like peonies and bleeding hearts that go completely dormant and others that hunker down and quit blooming 'til fall; annuals that won't reseed again until next spring (no matter what the seed packet says about blooming "all summer long"); and then some sensational heat lovers, both annual and perennial, that save the day from June until the first frosts. Keeping this in mind, what can we do for our beds while we still have gorgeous weather to enjoy the garden in?

First take a look at your spring blooming annuals. Have you saved all the seed you wanted? Though larkspur, nigella and poppies self-sow, you'll get the colors you want, where you want, by saving seed, storing it in a cool, dry place and scattering it in the fall. Pull up or chop off the last flower stalks, making room and sunlight for any perennials that are emerging. Check on and thin your summer annuals like zinnias, cosmos and marigold which should be off to a good start by now.

To read the rest of the article: Better blooms, continued.

  Upcoming Garden Events

Stephen F. Austin Pineywoods Native Plant Center will host the third Lone Star Regional Native Plant Conference, May 24 through 28, Nacogdoches. Enjoy lectures from the state’s finest native plant experts, tour amazing East Texas sites, and participate in one of SFA’s wonderful plant sales featuring Texas natives, heat tolerant color and Texas Gardener columnist Greg Grant’s newest introductions including Pam’s Pink Turk’s cap. For more information, call Elyce Rodewald at (936) 468-1832.

The Hunt County Master Gardeners will host a Garden Tour from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 3, in Greenville. The tour will feature unique and outstanding local area landscapes. Admission is $5 per person. For more information, call (903) 455-9885.

The San Antonio Daylily Society will hold a plant sale and show from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., June 3, at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels.

The Arlington Organic Garden Club will host its 11th Organic Garden Show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 10, at Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St. at Vandergriff Park, Arlington. The show will feature lots of plants, organic products and information. Admission and parking are free. For more information, call (817) 483-7746.

The Wichita County Master Gardeners will host "Thru the Garden Gate Tour" from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Saturday, June 10. This tour will take you thru seven of Wichita County's Master Gardeners' own private gardens. Five of the gardens are in Wichita Falls and two are located in Burkburnett. Tickets are $5.00 for adults and $1.00 for children and can be purchased at the County Extension Office at 600 Scott, Suite 200. This tour is a wonderful opportunity to get some great ideas on what you can put into your own garden area. The Master Gardeners will also be available to discuss gardening with you and answer any questions that you may have.

Blanco will host its second annual Lavender Festival, June 10 and 11 in Blanco. Blanco is a small town of 1,500 nestled in the middle of the Texas Hill Country. This fun-filled weekend will include free tours of Blanco’s nine lavender farms as well as a lavender market on the ground of the historic old courthouse. The festival coincides with the lavender bloom period which will continue for several weeks after the event. For more information, call (830) 833-5101 or visit

  Home Landscaping Texas is the perfect tool for Texans designing their own home landscapes

Texas Gardener Contributing Editor Greg Grant teams up with Roger Holmes to provide complete plans for handling common design challenges like front entries, foundation plantings, patios and steep slopes. Home Landscaping Texas provides step-by-step instructions for building paths, patios, ponds, walls, fences, arbors and trellises. With approximately 400 full-color photographs and illustrations, Home Landscaping Texas is the perfect tool for designing home landscapes in Texas.

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Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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